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Europe

French, Italian far-right youth groups protest migrants on border

media A person takes a picture of the new name of the far-right party National Front (FN) after party members backed the changing of the name to National Rally in Lyon on June 1, 2018. JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

The youth wings of France’s far-right National Rally party (formerly National Front) and Italy’s League held a joint anti-immigration protest on Sunday on the border of the two countries in the French city of Menton.

Dozens of young people attended the anti-immigration protest organised by Generation Nation and Youth League (Lega Giovani), the far-right youth groups of France’s National Rally and Italy’s League, respectively.

The organisers said they called the demonstration to oppose migrants “overwhelming” Europe and French President Emmanuel Macron’s immigration policy.

Generation Nation is the new name of the youth group formerly known as National Front Youth. The name change came in June, following Marine Le Pen’s announcement to rebrand her far-right party from National Front to National Rally.

Jordan Bardella, the national director of Generation Nation, said at a press conference in Menton on Sunday that his group had reached out to Youth League “with the aim of making potential allies in France and abroad”.

Bardella said these alliances were being forged partly in anticipation of next year’s European Parliament elections, which he believes will be “a referendum for or against mass immigration” to Europe.

Youth League spokesman Davide Quadri said his group “wants to work together” with its French counterpart. “Our shared goal is to be in control of our home countries.”

Bardella said he supported Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and his League party for “proving that it’s possible to say ‘no more’ to being submerged by migrants”.

Last month Salvini closed Italy’s ports to NGO migrant rescue ships for the duration of the summer, as part of his anti-immigrant platform. However, the Italian government softened its stance earlier this week after Brussels came forward with financial incentives.

Rome-Brussels showdown

On Tuesday, the European Commission proposed to provide funds to volunteering countries which set up and administer “controlled centres” to process asylum seekers on their territory. This would include paying countries 6,000 euros for every asylum seeker they host in these centres.

The proposal effectively defused Brussels’ weeks-long showdown with Rome over the latter’s refusal to allow migrant rescue ships to dock. Italy has now said it will temporarily open its ports to rescue boats while the EU drafts a new asylum policy that would more equally distribute responsibility amongst member states.

The bloc has so far failed to settle bitter rows over how to share responsibility for migrants and ease the stress on coastal countries such as Italy and Greece.

However, Spain has now surpassed Italy as the top destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. More than 20,000 people have landed on Spanish shores so far this year, according to UNHCR, a few thousand more than in Italy.

The bloc's divisive political crisis over migration returned in the last few weeks despite a sharp drop in migrant arrivals. The UNHCR estimates that the number of total sea arrivals this year, in Italy, Spain and Greece, is around 55,000 -- a major decrease from the one million people that arrived at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.

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