x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 October 2017

Italy could give 200,000 migrants EU visas in 'nuclear option' to ease refugee influx

Senior government officials say the temporary visas are 'under discussion' as a last-ditch attempt to solve its refugee crisis

An Italian coast guard waits as a rescue ship carrying more than 900 migrants rescued at sea comes in to dock at Salerno's harbor
An Italian coast guard waits as a rescue ship carrying more than 900 migrants rescued at sea comes in to dock at Salerno's harbor

Italy could send 200,000 migrants across Europe in a move which has been described as a ‘nuclear option’ to tackle an influx of refugees from north Africa.

Senior officials from Italy’s government are plotting to exploit an obscure Brussels directive by issuing migrants with temporary EU visas which would allow them to travel freely across the continent.

The country is struggling to cope with a massive increase in refugees arriving at its shores and the failure of other European countries to take in their fair share has infuriated the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

The “nuclear option” of issuing temporary visas is seen a last ditch attempt to solve Italy’s refugee crisis - and to force other countries to face up to their own responsibilities, The Times reports.

Rescue ships full of migrants who have made the treacherous crossing from Libya have been travelling to Italy after being turned away from other European ports, bringing the country to breaking point.

So far this year, more than 86,000 migrants have reached Italy bringing the total number in the country’s detention centres to 200,000.

Mattia Toaldo, a senior analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Times: “If migrants continue to arrive and Italy decides to give them papers to cross borders and leave Italy it would be a nuclear option. Italians have lost any hope of getting help from the EU and may say, ‘If you won’t make it a common challenge, we will’.

Members of Italy’s ruling Democrat Party want to use the European Council Directive 2001/55, which was initially drafted after the Balkans conflict to give a large number of displaced people temporary entry to Europe.

Luigi Manconi, a senator with the ruling Democratic Party, told The Times: “Letting migrants travel once they reach Italy would create a real problem for our EU neighbours. But I hope it would force France to confront the migrant problem head on.”