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Italy struggles to accommodate migrants as borders tighten
Migrants queue to receive clothes at Milan's main train station, Italy, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Milan city officials have appealed for help in managing the huge flow of migrants arriving from southern Italy after rescue at sea, as increasing numbers are unable to find beds and are sleeping in the train station. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
By Collen Barry
Sunday, June 14, 2015
MILAN — Officials in Milan and Rome were forced to take emergency measures Saturday to accommodate the influx of migrants rescued at sea who have been sleeping in train stations after Italy's neighbors tightened their border controls, preventing many from continuing their intended journeys to northern Europe.
Officials closed a migrant reception area overlooking the Milan train station's main entrance hall where hundreds have been sleeping this week amid increasing health and sanitation concerns. And in Rome officials began setting up tents with 150 beds outside the Tiburtina station where police had removed hundreds of migrants earlier in the week.
French police have been blocking the border with Italy for the last two days, and the French Interior Ministry said it had reinforced border controls over the last few weeks due to an influx of migrants. Meanwhile, the Austrian Interior Ministry has increased its border surveillance after neighboring Germany initiated border stops for the recent G-7 summit of industrialized nations and the international Bilderberg conference this weekend in Bavaria.
Gemma Azuni, a Rome city official, told The Associated Press the border closures are causing many problems.
"All stations are crowded with people who are not receiving sufficient help," she said.
In Milan, authorities overnight cleared the main station's mezzanine area, where migrants have been received for the last 20 months within an arm's length of passing tourists and commuters. While beds were found for those inside, 150 migrants still slept outside the station, according to the Progetto Arca charity. Many migrants remained beneath the porticoes throughout the day as officials met to decide how to shelter them.
"You can see that at the Central Station there is no more degradation," Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia told reporters at the station. "Now we have to resolve the problem as regards the refugees to have a situation that doesn't give the image of people sleeping on the ground without the assistance we had hoped for."
Some 300-400 migrants, mostly Eritreans arriving from southern Italy after being rescued at sea, have been sleeping in and around Milan's Central Station the last few nights because of a lack of beds in city-organized centers. Health officials say there have been over 100 cases of scabies in recent days, 500 since the beginning of the year.
The Italian State Railway is fixing up a former canteen to accommodate the migrants away from the station's main traffic, but officials said that won't be ready before early next week. The railway also has agreed to renovate another space nearby as a more permanent accommodation.
Milan has become an important way station for migrants arriving in southern Italy after rescue at sea, with the city providing food, medical care and beds. Until recently, most migrants have been staying just a few days, and sometimes just hours, before continuing their journey, avoiding fingerprinting procedures in Italy that are supposed to be mandatory under the European Union's Dublin accord that requires the country of entry to process asylum requests.
More than 64,000 have passed through Milan in the last 20 months. Few request asylum, officials confirm.
At the border with France, dozens of migrants prevented from crossing the border have been camped out for days. Many are protesting waving banners reading "We do not go back," and "We want to pass." Italian television Sky Tg24 reported that authorities in the Italian city of Ventimiglia have set up mobile showers and toilets near the station to accommodate migrants.
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