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Europe

Migrants stuck in Italian limbo as EU bickers

As European leaders argue about how to deal with the migrants landing on the continent's shores, those who were hoping to head north from Italy are finding they are stranded. Megan Williams reports from Rome.

In a dusty patch of land behind Rome's freshly renovated Tiburtina train station, a forklift clears the ground of brush, making more room for more tents in what is has to be one of the most incongruous sites for a refugee camp: the heart of large, prosperous European city. As workers move about, young boys kick around a football while other migrants listlessly wait on cots and plastic chairs in front of tents.

Volunteer Daniele Aloisi, 23, stands outside a Red Cross volunteer tent, greeting exhausted migrants, most from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia, who straggle into the camp with medical problems.

"Most of them want to head north, but with the border closed, they can't now," he says.

In a move that's part of a wider European Union dispute over who should take the migrants in,

France has shut its borders

to them. A meeting of EU ministers in Luxemburg failed to produce an agreement over an Italian plan to distribute asylum seekers more equally across all 28 EU states. That led

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

to threaten that Italy will issue travel permits to all migrants rescued at sea - a provocation likely too explosive to be carried out - and to deep frustration and anguish on the part of the migrants stranded in Italy.

An Italian Red Cross worker at a refugee camp near Rome train station

A Red Cross volunteer tent has been set up in the center of Rome

Inside the huge, sleek Tiburtina station, small groups of lost-looking teenaged boys wander about. When approached, they shake their heads, indicating they don't want to talk or have their photos taken. Most fear revealing their identity - and having fingerprints taken - lest it link their entry point into Europe to Italy, where they don't want to stay.

One tall, painfully thin 20-year-old Eritrean with wide-spaced white teeth does agree to talk, though not to give his name or pose for a photo.

"I don't want risk any trouble after everything …" he says, nervously glancing around. He tells me he travelled overland from Eritrea to Libya, where he was shut up in a compound outside of Tripoli with hundreds of other migrants. He was forced to stay there until his family was able to send $2,100 (1,850 euros) to smugglers for a spot on a boat to Italy. He and fellow passengers were at sea for 15 hours before Italian rescuers arrived and took them to Agrigento in Sicily. He's now waiting to reach his mother in Sweden.

No way out

In front of the station, the sidewalks are dotted with more young men crouched on scraps of cardboard. One, a welder named Razade from Eritrea who crossed to Italy on a rubber dinghy last week, says he's afraid to venture far.

"I can't go out straight, I'm afraid of the Italian police, that they may detect me, they may capture me, they may …" he points to his hand to indicate his fear of fingerprinting.

A migrant sits on cardboard on a Rome sidewalk

Exhausted migrants, most from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia, wander about the station

Rezene, too, asks not to have his picture taken. At 28, his wrinkled, wizened face reveals the trauma in his life so far. He tells me he was forced into military service in Eritrea for five years before making his way overland to Libya, stopping in Sudan for a year to earn enough money to pay human smugglers in Libya. Like thousands of others, he was kept in a compound, threatened and abused while waiting for a place on a boat.

"The Libya people are ignorant people, very cruel people," he says, his voice tinged with outrage. "They don't come to ask for money, they just beat you, they hit you with a stick."

Rezene says, unlike many of his fellow Africans, he does not have family members in Europe, but would like to make his refugee claim in

Germany

, where he's been told there are jobs.

When he bought a ticket and boarded a bus to Berlin, though, he was told without proper documents, he was going nowhere.

"The driver asked me, 'Where is your passport?' I told him I don't have one, and he said, 'you won't go with us.' He rejected me."

Africa's problems, Europe's problems

The feeling of rejection is shared by the hundreds of other migrants taking refuge in the nearby migrant-run Baobab center, which is struggling to feed and care for most of those waiting to head north.

Tiny children play in the corner of the center's courtyard while exhausted parents lie nearby, stretched out across the pavement alongside mounds of donated clothing.

Gemma Vecchio, an Eritrean who runs the migrant aid organization Casa Africa, shakes her head at the lack of organization.

Migrants at the Baobab refugee center in Rome

The Baobab center is struggling to feed and care for the hundreds of migrants

"They come many people, a few days ago even more, about 700, but there's no place, they can't sleep here … babies, everything," she says, her voice trailing off in exasperated.

But with hundreds more rescued this week and brought to southern Italy, the tide of migrants isn't going to subside any time soon.

When asked what Europe should do to resolve its migrant standoff, Vecchio says, it should work harder with African nations to end the wars and support development.

"And to these people," she says, "give training and then make projects in Africa so they can go back."

Despite European leaders' claim to want to address the root of the crisis, they continue to squabble over who should take in the migrants. But, as more and more migrants arrive, Africa's problems are getting harder to shut out, and a long-term solution seems further away.

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