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Italy's Renzi: Immigration crisis tests EU unity

Tuesday - 6/24/2014, 4:50pm  ET

KAVITHA SURANA
Associated Press

ROME (AP) -- Italian Premier Matteo Renzi issued a warning Tuesday to his European allies, saying they need to pitch in much more and help rescue tens of thousands of refugees who are risking their lives to reach the continent.

Renzi told parliament he planned to propose that EU leaders meeting Friday incorporate Italy's beefed-up border patrol, Mare Nostrum, into the European Frontex operation so Italy doesn't have to bear the brunt of sea rescues alone.

Italy launched Mare Nostrum last year after more than 360 migrants died off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. The operation, which costs Italy 9.5 million euros ($13 million) a month to operate, has already rescued 50,000 would-be migrants since January. Others have been picked up in the Mediterranean Sea by Italian fishing boats. In all, nearly 60,000 migrants have been rescued in the first half of this year -- far outpacing the 42,000 who arrived in 2013.

If the EU is not prepared to step up assistance, Renzi said, Italy will respond "keep your currency and leave us our values."

Across Europe, calls to eliminate the common currency eurozone have intensified after populist groups made gains in European parliamentary elections in May. But Renzi stressed the importance of deeper integration and the EU's responsibility of avoiding deaths at sea.

"It's not enough to have a common currency, a common presidency or a common source of financing," he said. "Either we accept the idea of having a common destiny and values ... or we risk the role of Europe itself."

The vast majority of migrants -- from Africa, Syria and other conflict zones -- have been massing at the Libyan port of Tripoli to board smugglers' rickety boats and seek asylum in Europe. Efforts by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to alleviate the situation have been stymied by political instability in Libya.

Italy plans to make immigration a top concern during its presidency of the EU Council starting July 1.


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