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Germany

German interior minister: 'Italy must live up to its responsibilities'

Italy must deal on its own with the problem of a surge in North African refugees, says German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. A mere 23,000 refugees can hardly be a problem, he told German public broadcaster ARD.

small boat chock-full of African people

They're headed for Europe

Isn't it deeply selfish to say: this is a purely Italian problem?

Hans-Peter Friedrich: Of course we need a pan-European approach. There are, after all, refugees in Malta as well. Germany has agreed - and I discussed that point last week with Germany's state interior ministers - to take on 100 refugees from Malta. Most of these refugees fled from Somalia and Eritrea via northern Africa and they urgently need help. And Malta is a small country that also urgently needs our help. The situation in Italy is different. The refugees there are primarily driven by poverty; that is, people are simply taking the opportunity to come to Europe now because they might have relatives or other ties here. Here, we need a two-stage policy: first of all, Italy must live up to its responsibilities. Italy is a large country, so 23,000 refugees are no problem with regard to the entire population. Bear in mind that last year, Germany took in more than 40,000 asylum seekers. So, the ball is in Italy's court, and that's where we stand at the moment.

There has been talk about border controls - how close are we to implementing such measures?

Well, the Italians have to do two things now, and they have already begun to act. First, they have to negotiate the return of the refugees with Tunisia. They've taken the first steps, and Tunisia is in principle prepared to take them back. But by then, many of these 23,000 will have continued their journey, most of them probably to France. What Italy is doing now is granting thousands of them temporary residence permits, which allow them to head to Italy's northern borders, creating a problem for France which has already reacted with strict border controls. So far, we have not noted an increase in numbers here in Germany. But we will be very vigilant.

That means, if the number of refugees rises, there would be border controls, for instance along the border with Austria?

If there were a significant rise in numbers, we would set in motion our rights and contingencies and send back to Italy those travelers who can not provide for their own stay in Germany.

But it is not Italy's fault that it happens to be situated across from Tunisia. Isn't it a pan-European problem?

Of course. Waves of refugees are always a pan-European problem. But as I've said before, within this European solidarity, it is necessary for each individual country to first face its responsibility and that includes, in this case, that Italy must negotiate with Tunisia, with the government there. And we, the EU as a whole, will do what we can to reduce the pressure for refugees in North Africa. Naturally, that means giving careful thought to how the situation in North Africa can be improved so the people there do not feel the need to leave their countries.

Interview: Sven Lorig / db
Editor: Michael Lawton

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