Milan warning on tents for migrants

epa05456738 A group of migrants and asylum seekers are seen at the border town of Ventimiglia, Italy, 05 August 2016. The group forced a police cordon, jumped into the sea and swam to France. According to media reports the Italian and French police fired tear gas but were unable to stop them. EPA/FABRIZIO TENERELLI©EPA

Migrants evade police in Ventimiglia before some swam to France

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Milan’s mayor has warned that the city may have to set up tents to house migrants, as a record number of arrivals turn up in Italy’s second largest city after being rejected at the French and Swiss borders.

Although the number of migrants arriving in Italy’s southern ports has been almost flat compared to last year, the pressure on local authorities has been rising as migrants struggle to travel north to other European countries — as is usually their intention. France, Austria and Switzerland have become increasingly aggressive in rejecting those who arrive at their borders.

“We have to manage an emergency which is structural and European,” Giuseppe Sala, Milan’s mayor, told reporters on Tuesday. “We are monitoring the situation and we cannot rule out the tent solution, because objectively there [are] not any other spaces available within such a quick timeframe.”

The spike in arrivals in Milan comes at a bad time for Matteo Renzi, Italy’s centre-left prime minister, who has already suffered waning popularity on the back of a sluggish economic recovery and a banking crisis. Mr Renzi is also gearing up for a referendum on constitutional reforms, due in November, which could determine his fate in office — he has pledged to step down if the measure is defeated. 

Milan, Italy’s capital of finance and fashion, was hosting about 3,300 recent migrants last weekend, a record figure driven by what Mr Sala described as a “reflux” of people arriving in Milan from Como, near the Swiss border, and Ventimiglia, near the French border. In Ventimiglia, some migrants clashed with police and even tried to swim to France but were immediately sent back to Italy. 

Protesters hold a banner reading "We are all citizens of the world, no frontier, no borders" as they stage a demonstration in Ventimiglia, Italy, August 7, 2016, two days after the local Italian police chief said more than 100 migrants broke through police barriers at the Italian border town and made their way into France. REUTERS/Jean-Pierre Amet©Reuters

Protesters in Ventimiglia responding to police turning back migrants

As of the start of August, 93,788 migrants had arrived in Italy by sea this year, slightly below the tally over the same period in 2015 and easing fears earlier in the year of much bigger flows. But Milan’s existing reception facilities for migrants still appear to be at full capacity, according to La Repubblica, the Italian daily, including one near the central railroad station that houses about 450 asylum seekers. Many of the charitable and religious groups that also contribute to migrant housing are also struggling to meet demand.

Mr Sala, who became mayor in June and represents Mr Renzi’s Democratic party, had hoped to use the grounds of the 2015 World’s Fair event in Milan to host some migrants but the effort has run into political opposition. He has also floated the idea of using former military and police barracks. 

Opposition lawmakers have immediately pounced on Milan’s difficulties, by blaming the city administration and Mr Renzi. “The [Democratic party] mayors have no idea what to do and they are thinking of putting tents up in the piazza. They are incapable and so are their bosses,” Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic Northern League, wrote on his Facebook page.

Mr Salvini added that he would begin “pushbacks” of migrants if he were in government. 

Following his own remarks to reporters, Mr Sala then issued a new statement to say that Milan would not be transformed into a “tent city” and that the authorities were in “full control” of the migrant situation. “The city is not in disarray. The problems are being faced with common sense and lots of hard work,” he added.

Since the EU made a deal with Ankara in March to stem migrant flows from Turkey, which shut the Balkan route for new arrivals, Italy has once again become the biggest recipient of migrants to the EU. Many of those arriving are from sub-Saharan Africa, with Nigerians being the top nationality by far.

Italy has called on the EU to strike deals with African countries to boost the deportation of migrants who do not qualify for asylum and to link economic aid to help with controlling migrant flows. The efforts have not produced any tangible results so far.

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