Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga has criticised Italy for its policy of giving Tunisian economic refugees three-month visas.
At a heated meeting of Schengen zone justice and interior ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, France, Germany and Austria proposed closing their borders to Tunisians in possession of the Italian visa, which allows them to cross into other Schengen countries.
More than 25,000 Tunisian migrants have arrived on Italian shores since the beginning of the year.
Sommaruga said the number of North Africans checked at Swiss borders had tripled in the last month to 150 people.
“Most of them are migrants who have come looking for work. They must return to Italy because that is where they entered the Schengen zone,” Sommaruga said. “The Italian policy is legal, but it doesn’t help in finding a solution to the problems of immigration.”
Most ministers at the meeting, along with Sommaruga, agreed to assist Tunisia with the economic development of the country, on the condition it moves to stem the flow of immigrants out of the country.
“Tunisia must make an effort,” said Sommaruga. “The European Union must obtain an agreement for the return of immigrants as soon as possible and Tunisia must improve its fight against gangs involved in human trafficking. On the other hand, Europe can help with controlling its borders and support its efforts for economic and political stability.”
Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni made clear his anger at the way discussions had unfolded.
“We asked for help and we have been told to go it alone. I wonder if it still makes sense to be part of the European Union,” Maroni said. “We will continue to do what we are doing alone. Better to be alone than in bad company.”
swissinfo.ch and agencies