France And Italy Seek To Defuse Schengen Migration Row

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to meet Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to discuss tensions over migrants from North Africa.

Immigrants from North Africa line up for food and water distribution March 29 on Lampedusa island, southernmost Italy. Some 18,000 North African immigrants, mainly from unrest-torn Libya and Tunisia, have been flooding the small Italian island of Lampedusa, which is only 110 km away from Africa. More immigrants are expected to land here as the Libyan crisis deepens. Italy will send more ships with a total capacity of 10,000 berths to evacuate migrants on Lampedusa starting from Wednesday.

Italy has angered France by granting visas to thousands of migrants, allowing them to travel across Europe's border-free Schengen zone.

About 25,000 migrants have arrived in southern Italy so far this year. Rome has called for EU help with their care.

Many of the migrants are Tunisian and want to join relatives in France.

Earlier this month the two countries agreed to joint sea and air patrols to try to stop African migrants reaching Europe.

The unrest in North Africa has triggered a huge movement of migrants to Europe. Many head first to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies about 120km (75 miles) off the Tunisian coast.

Many Tunisian migrants arriving in Italy are heading to France where they have relativesFrance promised to honour the temporary visas Italy has granted the migrants but has said it will turn away those who cannot support themselves financially.

Last week, French gendarmes sent back Tunisian migrants trying to cross the border from Italy.

There are reports that officials from both countries have reached agreement on amending the Schengen treaty so that national border checks can be reintroduced.

The 1995 Schengen treaty allows legal residents of most EU countries, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland to travel across the zone without visas.

Mr Sarkozy and Mr Berlusconi are also due to discuss French takeovers of Italian firms and the two countries' response to the unrest in Libya.

BBC