Italy in Euro row over refugees

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The Independent Online
Ever since boatloads of Kurds from Turkey began to wash up on the shores of southern Italy in the week after Christmas, Europe has been facing its immigration problem from hell. So far, about 1,200 of them have arrived - for the most part in rickety ships setting sail from Istanbul - and up to several thousand more are expected in the next few days.

Although much of the European Union is now supposed to be practising a common immigration policy, the influx has provoked a bitter row between Italy, which is offering the Kurds temporary asylum, and Germany, where many of them are probably heading.

The crisis has done little for relations between Europe and Turkey, which has done its best for the last 13 years to keep the repression of its Kurdish minority within its own borders, and it has provided a golden opportunity for various mafia groups, who are making the most of the opportunity to establish new arms and drugs smuggling routes.

The immediate cause of the influx is Italy's recent adhesion to the Schengen group, by which eight European Union countries practise an open-border policy among themselves, along with what are supposed to be tighter immigration controls on outsiders. For years, Italy was denied full membership of the Schengen group because of fears about its porous coastline - some 8,000km - and because of its immigration policies which give illegal immigrants every opportunity to enter the country and then vanish without trace.

Under current legislation, which is under review, immigrants declared illegal are given 15 days to leave the country - plenty of time to head northwards to France or Germany. That helps to explain why Manfred Kanther, Germany's Interior Minister, is accusing the Italians of irresponsibility by letting the new Kurdish arrivals in.

The Italians maintain they are screening the Kurds to separate genuine refugees, which it says it welcomes "with open arms", from undesirables. Both countries, meanwhile, are coming under heavy pressure from Ankara not to recognise any of the immigrants as refugees, arguing that there is no problem with the Kurdish minority that need concern any country.