France to send reinforcements to Italy border after protests over migrants

A screengrab of a video taken on April 22, 2018, shows demonstrators taking part in a protest walk at Montgenevre, on the border between France and Italy in the Alps, to help nearly 30 migrants cross the border to France.
A screengrab of a video taken on April 22, 2018, shows demonstrators taking part in a protest walk at Montgenevre, on the border between France and Italy in the Alps, to help nearly 30 migrants cross the border to France.PHOTO: AFP

LYON (AFP) - France's interior minister said he would send significant security reinforcements to the country's Alpine border with Italy after a weekend of protest actions by pro- and anti-migrant groups.

Far-right groups and pro-migrant activists have turned the mountain passes by the border, which are used by migrants travelling from Italy to France, into a stage for provocations and posturing, Minister Gerard Collomb said.

"Faced with these unacceptable actions, significant police and gendarme reinforcements" would be deployed, said Mr Collomb, whose controversial immigration law was adopted on Sunday (April 22) by the National Assembly.

The extra security forces will "ensure absolute respect for the control of the border", he added.

Late Saturday and early on Sunday, activists from a small French far-right group blocked a key mountain pass some 6km from the Italian border which they say is a "strategic point for illegal migrants", prompting a furious reaction from pro-migrant activists.

On Sunday afternoon, a procession of French and Italian pro-migrant groups crossed the border at the Montgenevre Pass, alongside some 30 migrants, and had some minor scuffles with law enforcement officials on the way, a police source said.

The interior ministry said "violence was committed against security forces and a gendarme vehicle was damaged".

Thousands of young men from francophone west Africa have trudged across the mountains over the past two years, dreaming of jobs in France.

In recent months, as news about the route - one of the lesser known on Europe's migrant trail - filtered back to Africa, the arrivals have gained pace.

Most of those crossing the Alps in recent months have been from Guinea or Ivory Coast, both former French colonies.

Few have any hope of being granted refugee status, being considered economic migrants for fleeing a crippling lack of jobs and opportunities at home rather than war.

Mr Collomb said the legislation passed on Sunday aims for better controlled immigration, halving the waiting time for asylum applications to six months while also making it easier to deport those turned down as economic migrants.

However, the legislation, criticised by right-wingers for being too soft and by left-wingers who see it as repressive, has exposed unprecedented divisions in President Emmanuel Macron's young centrist party.