Friday 15 December 2017

Lake Como becomes latest, most unlikely, flashpoint in Europe’s migration crisis

George Clooney has a villa on Lake Como in Italy
George Clooney’s famous Lake Como mansion

Geraldine Gittens and Agencies

Lake Como - a spectacular Italian tourist destination frequented by the likes of Hollywood actor George Clooney – has become the latest, most unlikely, flashpoint in Europe’s migration crisis.

Around 400 migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia are currently camping rough outside Como train station, and in a nearby park, since July when the Swiss clamped down on crossings by migrants across the border.

Recently, Clooney and his wife Amal hosted a lavish fundraising dinner nearby in aid of Darfur, the region of Sudan that has been devastated by a decade of civil war.

While the party was taking place, victims of the Darfur conflict were among those sleeping rough a few miles away.

"We're concerned about reports from minors who by their own accounts were sent back to Italy at the Swiss border and were prevented from joining family members in Switzerland," Amnesty International Switzerland has said.

Amnesty International has warned of a buildup of migrants on Italy's border with Switzerland and demanded clarification from Swiss authorities over reports by children that they had been sent back when trying to join their parents there.

Switzerland said the buildup was due to an influx of African migrants seeking passage to north European countries such as Germany. Any individual requesting asylum would be granted the opportunity.

"If a minor has family members in Switzerland who could care for her or him, ultimately Switzerland should process that asylum request," the agency added.

Some two-thirds of the nearly 7,500 migrants who reached Switzerland via the southern canton of Ticino have been turned back since early July, a steep rise from the one in seven denied entry earlier this year.

That proportion was still rising in recent weeks.

Many of the refugees sleeping rough around Lake Como train station are Eritrean and Ethiopian, fleeing two of Africa’s most dictatorial regimes.

One Ethiopian refugee, Abdi Mohammed (22), told The Telegraph newspaper: “If the border is closed, what shall we do? What is the solution? Please help us.”

He travelled from Ethiopia to Sudan and on to Egypt, where he paid smugglers in Alexandria $3,000 to take him across the Mediterranean in a boat packed with 300 people.

“I want to live in a free and democratic country – that is my dream. I hope to continue my studies. I want to go to Germany.”

Meanwhile, Abubakar Ahmed, 43, from Eritrea, has tried twice to cross the border by train.  He has considered hiking across the mountains but fears being caught. 

“We have no maps, we don’t know where to go, maybe the police have dogs. Because of our colour, we are easy to recognise,” he told The Telegraph.

Migrants turned back at the French and Swiss borders are beginning to pile up in Milan, the city's mayor, Giuseppe Sala, said.

More than 3,000 migrants in transit to other European countries were stranded in Italy's financial capital.

"Recognising the precarious circumstances for refugees in northern Italy, it's unacceptable to turn away especially vulnerable people," Amnesty said.


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