Switzerland and Italy have agreed to put beefed-up patrols and a “crisis team” along their common border, following a visit by Finance Minister Ueli Maurer to Rome.
Maurer said he expected a stark increase in the number of refugees and immigrants at the Swiss border. Therefore, it was important to send them back swiftly, he told a news conference on Tuesday.
He said Switzerland welcomed Italy’s pledge to increase the size of its patrols along the shared border in Ticino, the Italian-speaking and southernmost Swiss canton. Until now, the Swiss border presence has been twice that of the Italians.
Together, the countries hope to improve their abilities to curb illegal migration and human trafficking, which has “taken on a global dimension” and must be addressed by Europeans together, said Maurer whose portfolio includes border guards.
Another element of cooperation involves a possible border tax that the two neighbors agreed to discuss starting last year.
The two countries also decided to establish a crisis team in Ticino that could serve as a nerve centre on migration. Governments around the world are under pressure to deal with a post-war record number of 60 million displaced people, including 20 million stranded outside their home countries.
Italy and Greece have been the main European countries by which hundreds of thousands of refugees have attempted to enter the European Union.
Most migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq travel over the so-called Balkan Route via Greece. Switzerland, however, has been preparing for the possibility of the Italian route over the central Mediterranean Sea, mainly used by Africans, becoming more popular again.
A sense of widespread desperation is evident among migrants trying to get to northern Europe. Swiss border guards found a 21-year-old Eritrean trying to sneak into southern Switzerland in a suitcase earlier this week.
The suitcase arrived on a train from Italy. Authorities said they had not previously seen that tactic used. The man was detained on a train platform in Chiasso and sent back to Italy, after he did not request asylum.
In recent weeks there has been an upsurge in Eritreans, Nigerians and Somalis caught attempting to enter Ticino.
In a related development, Maurer said Switzerland’s asylum policy had to take into account financial aspects.
“Until now, the financial consequences of the asylum policy for the federal, cantonal and local authorities have not been considered enough,” he told the Basler Zeitung newspaper.
Last week, the government announced that an additional CHF850 million ($874 million) were needed next year to cover the costs for asylum.
swissinfo.ch and agencies