France and Italy agree to unify border forces to combat people smuggling

France and Italy have agreed to work even closer together along their shared border to tackle the networks of people smugglers operating there.

Both countries’ guards and officials will operate under one command to make them more effective. The location for the command’s headquarters has yet to be announced.

One major – and often deadly – route for many refugees and economic migrants is across the Mediterranean by usually overcrowded and unseaworthy boats from north Africa and onto Italy’s coastline.

Many aim to then head to more prosperous northern European countries, particularly Germany and the UK.

Libya is normally the starting point for what is a terrifying journey. Some are however quickly intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and forcibly returned.

The medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders alleged in a tweet on Thursday that “three people were shot dead and two were severely injured” after they were returned to Libya’s coastal town of Khoms.

France wants a “common position” with Italy before an October summit of EU interior ministers in Brussels on a new “migration pact” to be proposed by the Commission in September, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said.

It also wants to obtain the support of Spain and Germany, which Darmanin will visit in August.

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Joint patrols already exist between Italy and France’s border police forces of both countries, but the integrated patrols will bring together for the first time, within a specific structure, both countries’ officers under a single command.

The legal framework to establish it is however still under discussion.

“This is an extremely important point in the fight against this border crossing of illegal immigrant populations, from the region of Ventimiglia on the Italian side to the region of Menton on the French side,” Darmanin said after talks with his Italian counterpart, Luciana Lamorgese on Friday.

Paris and Rome have also decided that the Malta agreement “can be incorporated into EU law, which is the Italian request and which we support, but also be extended to all EU countries”, according to the minister.

Germany, France, Italy and Malta had agreed in September on a temporary mechanism, based on voluntary work, for the distribution of migrants rescued at sea, but only a few countries such as Portugal, Luxembourg and Ireland had joined the initiative.

The mechanism was suspended due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

“The Malta agreements have been suspended but there have been several boats that have arrived on Italian soil and now all European countries have to do what France and Germany have done, which is to be firm outside Europe’s borders,” said Darmanin.

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“At the same time we must be able to distribute asylum seekers when they arrive in Italy,” he added.

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