European nations are divided on how to deal with an exodus of immigrants fleeing unrest in North Africa and arriving in Italy. Rome has criticized neighboring countries for refusing to accept what it has described as a “human tsunami.”
More than 20,000 immigrants have arrived in Italy through the small Mediterranean island of Lampedusa since political unrest erupted in Tunisia and Libya earlier this year.
Despite objections from France and Germany, Italian officials started issuing six-month residency permits to the immigrants Sunday, allowing them to travel freely in Europe’s 25-nation, border-free Schengen area.
France has responded by tightening its border controls with Italy, while Germany and Austria say they are considering similar steps.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said his country cannot accept numerous economic immigrants arriving in Europe.
Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni says the issue will show whether a united Europe exists or whether it is just a geographical term.