Italy vows to step up deportations of migrants

European country is pushing for agreement with Niger and renewed deal with Tunisia to facilitate returns.

Alfano: Three countries are key to tackling crisis

2017-01-04 16:51:00

ROME - Italy vowed Wednesday to increase deportations of migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected, after a riot in a reception centre sparked by the death of a young woman.

The country, which has been on the frontline of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean from North Africa, is pushing for an agreement with Niger and a renewed deal with Tunisia to facilitate returns.

"We have saved many lives but we cannot accept rule-breaking. We need to speed up deportations," Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, the country's former interior minister, said in an interview with La Stampa daily.

He was "working to tie up agreements which will reduce arrivals and prevent departures" from the coast of North Africa, he said after a record 181,000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to safety in Italy in 2016.

Asylum seekers set fires inside the reception facility near Venice earlier this week in a protest over living conditions and access to healthcare after a 25-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast died.

The migrants cut the electricity and forced social workers to barricade themselves in their offices at the centre in Cona, where 1,500 people were housed in a space designed for 15 according to the local mayor.

The nearby hamlet, which has just 190 residents, has seen the number of migrants lodged in flimsy tents balloon over the past year.

Protesters had complained of a delay in calling an ambulance for the woman, who died in a bathroom of a blood clot.

Some 100 people were transferred Wednesday from the Cona centre to Bologna, where they were destined for other facilities.

They were met by a small group of Italian demonstrators holding banners reading: "Solidarity with those who revolt".

Interior Minister Marco Minniti said at least one "Centre for Identification and Expulsion" (CIE) will be opened in every region of Italy in the coming weeks, where those who have had their asylum request rejected will be held before deportation.

Returning migrants is a costly, time-consuming process that requires bilateral agreements with the countries of origin.

Alfano said three countries were "key" to tackling the biggest migrant crisis since World War II: Libya, Niger and Tunisia.

The EU believes just over half the migrants arriving in Italy travel first through Niger and last month it offered Niamey 610 million euros ($635 million) to curb transit towards Europe.

Alfano said Italy was "close to sealing an agreement" with the West African country, while Minniti spent Tuesday in Tunisia for talks on "renewing" a repatriation agreement between Rome and Tunis.

Italy's police chief Franco Gabrielli vowed at the weekend to deport more migrants who have no right to be in the country following the shooting in Milan of the suspected attacker behind the Berlin Christmas market tragedy.

Tunisian Anis Amri had arrived in Italy by boat in 2011. He spent time in a detention centre and several prisons in Sicily for violent behaviour after Italy tried but failed to deport him back to Tunisia, and was finally ordered to leave the country in 2015.

His return to Italy -- where he was shot dead -- after the Berlin attack raised fears he was attempting to contact jihadist plotters here.

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