Italy will issue tens of thousands of migrants, mainly North Africans who have arrived in boats on its shores over recent months, with temporary visas that enable them to travel around much of Europe.
Roberto Maroni, Italian Immigration Minister, said: “We will give temporary visas for humanitarian protection to those people who are in Italy, not everyone, but those who fulfill certain conditions, which will allow them to move around the Schengen member countries.”
Rome said the vast majority of people who land in Italy wanted to join relatives or friends elsewhere in Europe, according to EuroNews.
Silvio Berlusconi on Apr. 1 threatened to allow the wave of migrants loose into Europe, citing a reluctance by fellow European Union member countries to help deal with up to 26,000 recent arrivals on Italy's shores.
Italy singled out France, which has blocked Tunisian migrants at the French-Italy border, saying it had the right to stop migrants with no papers. or its part, the European Commission has told France that it is violating the EU's border-free Schengen system by sending North African migrants found near its southern frontier back over the border to Italy.
European Commission spokesman Martin Grabiec reportedly said Thursday that migrants would only be allowed to travel within the Schengen area for up to three months if they had valid travel documents, sufficient money to live on and posed no threat to public security. “Having a Schengen visa doesn’t necessarily mean someone has the automatic right to move around within the Schengen zone. People from other countries must fulfill certain conditions,” he said, DPA reoprted.
Reacting to the Italian plan, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom's office said permit holders would not have an "automatic" right to travel within the Schengen zone — the borderless area created by the 25 cosignatory states of the Schengen Treaty.
Meanwhile, the search for 150 refugees from Libya missing after their boat sank off Sicily was reportedly winding down. Just over 50 people have reportedly been rescued.
"We are still searching for 150 people. The hope of finding other survivors is fading by the hour." Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told the Italian parliament, Deutsche Welle reports.
Helicopter pilots reported on Wednesday that they had seen some 20 bodies near the spot where the boat sank, about 46 miles south of Lampedusa Island.