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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
EU split over migrant camp plan
Italian policeman looks at illegal migrants on Lampedusa
Italy has begun taking tough action to eject illegal migrants
France and Spain have rejected a plan by Germany and Italy to create large holding centres in North Africa to process would-be migrants to Europe.

After a meeting of interior ministers in the Italian city of Florence, France's Dominique de Villepin said the idea was "out of the question".

Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said the camps would not give humanitarian guarantees.

Illegal immigration is one of the most sensitive issues on the EU's agenda.

"In this case we must confess we haven't found consensus yet," German minister Otto Schily told the press conference after the mini-summit ended on Monday.

The Florence meeting - bringing together ministers from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Britain - focused on handling immigration, terrorism and organised crime.

Dominique de Villepin
We do not want to accept camps or centres of any kind
Dominique de Villepin
French interior minister

The German-Italian proposal would see the setting up of large processing centres where migrants would be given basic accommodation and protection while their claims were assessed.

But Mr de Villepin said: "We do not want to accept camps or centres of any kind."

He added that immigration policy should be agreed by international organisations and transit states, not just by EU countries.

Mr Alonso, for his part, reaffirmed Spain's opposition to the plan.

Protests

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett flew home after the talks.

But a British Home Office spokesman told AFP news agency that London had "not opposed" the idea of transit camps.

The five ministers agreed on a number of points:

  • A common "watch list" of terror suspects is to be set up

  • Europe's police force, Europol, will be given a "central operational role" in the fight against terrorism

  • Biometric information - including fingerprints and iris-scanning data - will help make European travel documents more secure

The proposal for holding centres has been condemned by human rights activists, who say African countries do not have the resources to care for large numbers of asylum-seekers.

The Florence meeting was marked by demonstrations from immigrant support groups.

Protesters carried banners against "racist laws" and set off flares as the meeting started.

Illegal immigration is one of Italy's key problems because many boat people set off from the Libyan coast bound for Lampedusa - a tiny island between Africa and Sicily.


SEE ALSO:
Concerns over EU 'transit camps'
30 Sep 04  |  Europe
Analysis: Migrant boats test EU
27 Aug 04  |  Europe


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