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Mediterranean migrants: Italy warns EU over quota plan

EU interior ministers are to discuss how to respond to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, with Italy threatening a strong response if no deal is reached.
A key issue at the talks in Luxembourg is a plan to distribute asylum seekers more evenly across all 28 EU states.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said without agreement Italy would adopt a “Plan B” that would “hurt” Europe.
The crisis has put a huge strain on Italian, Greek and Maltese resources.
While some EU states including Germany and Austria back a deal to share a total of 60,000 asylum seekers across 25 nations, others argue that migrants should not be forced to move to countries where they do not want to settle. The UK, Denmark and Ireland have exemptions from the quota plan.
More than 1,800 migrants have died in the Mediterranean so far this year – a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014. The majority had set sail aboard rickety, overcrowded boats from strife-torn Libya.
In recent weeks naval vessels, including the UK’s HMS Bulwark, have rescued thousands of people at risk of drowning, but plans to resettle migrants across Europe and break up the smuggling networks have yet to be agreed.
Italian police are moving dozens of migrants away from the French border in Ventimiglia
For the past few days, Italy has also been involved in a row with France over the presence of more than 200 African migrants stuck at Ventimiglia on the border.
France has accused Italy of failing to respect EU asylum rules, but the Rome government has argued the migrants see Italy only as a transit country.
Going into the Luxembourg talks, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said “we have to build solidarity for our Italian friends, and they have to build responsibility”. Responsibility, he explained, must include “organising the return of irregular migrants”.
What interior ministers say
Italy’s Angelino Alfano: At stake are the principles of free circulation, the European Common Asylum Policy, the principle of responsibility and the principle of solidarity, therefore we are working to avoid Europe’s political bankruptcy… The scene in Ventimiglia is a punch in Europe’s face. It’s the proof that migrants don’t come to Italy to stay in Italy, but to go to Europe.
UK’s Theresa May: We need to go after the criminal gangs who are plying this terrible, callous trade in human lives. We also need to break the link between people getting into the boats and reaching Europe. That means returning people to North Africa or elsewhere, to their home countries so they see there is no merit in this journey.
Ireland’s Frances Fitzgerald: We want to act in solidarity with other countries to deal with this humanitarian crisis. So we’ll be considering the range of alternatives today very seriously.
Italy’s ‘Plan B’
Italy and Greece – which have already seen more than 100,000 boat people arrive on their shores this year – insist other EU nations must share some of the burden. Italy has seen an influx of almost 60,000 migrants, mainly from Libya.
Mr Renzi is reported to have warned that, without a fair deal, Italy would start issuing temporary visas to enable migrants to travel beyond Italy under Schengen rules.
“If the European Council chooses solidarity, then good. If it doesn’t we have a Plan B ready but that would be a wound inflicted on Europe,” he told Italy’s Corriere della Sera.
Although details of Italy’s Plan B have not been given, reports suggest that Italy would refuse to allow migrants rescued by foreign navies to disembark on its shores.
Asked whether that was true, Italian European Affairs Minister Sandro Gozzi told BBC Radio “it is clear that in a possible second phase we will apply international maritime law in all its aspects”.
The Schengen system removed compulsory passport controls at most of the EU’s internal borders, to encourage free movement.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Luxembourg that “we’re not looking to change Schengen, we’re not for systematic border controls”.
EU quota proposals
•    40,000 migrants who arrive from Syria and Eritrea over the next two years to be relocated across the EU
•    Of that total, 24,000 to be taken from Italy, 16,000 from Greece
•    “Distribution key” criteria to include a country’s population, GDP and unemployment, as well as the number of refugees already taken in
•    France and Germany are expected to receive more than 30% of the relocated refugees
•    Separate proposal to resettle some 20,000 mainly Syrian refugees currently living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey
The European Commission has said it wants to adopt “immediate measures to prevent human tragedies and to deal with emergencies”.
The commission wants to relocate 40,000 new arrivals over the next two years according to a “distribution key” that takes account of factors such as population, gross domestic product and unemployment, as well as the number of refugees already taken in.
However, France and Germany – which together would be expected to receive more than 30% of the relocated refugees – have asked for “fairer burden-sharing”.
They also say that greater emphasis should be placed on the number of asylum seekers already taken in.
Poland has voiced its opposition to mandatory quotas, saying it is up to member states to make their own decisions.