Italy wants centres to halt migrant tide

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Migrants are disembarked from a Coast Guard boat in the Sicilian harbour, Italy. Reuters

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Italy called on Monday for migrant centres to be set up in Africa to stop a tide of asylum-seekers fleeing toward western Europe, as Rome raised pressure on its European Union partners to take a much tougher approach to immigration.

The new Italian government has closed its ports to charity ships operating in the Mediterranean, saying the EU must share the burden of disembarking the hundreds of migrants who are plucked from waters each month, mostly off the Libyan coast.

Italy, which lies close to Libya, has taken in 650,000 boat migrants since 2014. Its tough new approach has aggravated EU tensions over immigration policy and created concerns among investors.

“Reception and identification centres should be set up…,” Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on a visit to Libya, the departure point for most migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.

Meeting his counterpart in Libya’s internationally-recognised government Abdulsalam Ashour and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeg, Salvini thanked the Libyan coastguard for its “excellent work” in rescuing and intercepting migrants.

However, the Tripoli-based government, which does not control the whole of Libya, is unwilling to host reception centres itself. Maiteeg said that while his government was ready to tackle migration, “we completely reject any migrant camps in Libya”.

After returning to Italy, Salvini said such centres should be set up south of Libya, in Niger, Mali, Chad and Sudan.

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