Islamist terrorists are blending in with migrants in order to gain entrance into the EU, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said Monday, lamenting that Italy's EU partners were not paying enough attention.
Italy is a key transit country for people fleeing conflict and poverty in North Africa and elsewhere, as tens of thousands of asylum-seekers reach its shores every year, often risking their lives on rickety boats captained by human traffickers.
"A lot of evidence suggests that by now, other less friendly migrants or people on the move are mixing in with women and children or using them as human shields. They may be former jihadists, members of al-Qaeda or of other groups," Bonino said at the foreign press club in Rome.
The phenomenon is bolstered by the fact that Libya, where the government is struggling to uphold the rule of law, "is turning into a sort of lawless motorway" for human, drug and arms traffickers, the minister said.
Bonino argued that the EU "is not yet fully aware" of the security risk, and stressed it would be "quite irresponsible" for the bloc to leave Italy facing the problem alone.
The minister recalled her country's proposal for the EU to launch a naval mission in the Mediterranean, which would be tasked with rescuing migrants but also with screening people picked up from the sea.
Italy launched its own sea and air patrols in October, following a shipwreck off the island of Lampedusa in which 366 were killed. But Bonino said the Mare Nostrum mission was funded only until December.
Despite the onset of winter weather, which normally causes a steep fall in migrant arrivals, hundreds of migrants have been intercepted at sea by Italian authorities in recent days. On Sunday, the coast guard rescued 55 of migrants off the island of Pantelleria.
Bonino said human traffickers had started to use larger ships that can stand up to rough seas to take people from North Africa into international waters. From there, migrants are unloaded onto smaller vessels and directed towards Italy, she added.
THE SO CALLED "ARAB SPRING" AND NOW JIHAD IN SYRIA ARE PERFECT EXCUSES FOR EVERY MUSLIM OPPORTUNISTS TO GET INTO EU.
The exodus of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria represents a security threat to the European Union, Italy's foreign minister said Monday, warning that potential terrorists could be among the displaced.
"Like all major humanitarian crises", the Syria conflict "has political aspects and consequences that can have devastating effects", Emma Bonino told reporters in Rome.
"If you consider displaced people, refugees and immigrants, we have millions of people moving around the southern Mediterranean,"she said.
"We have many reasons to believe that among the women and children, there are also less friendly immigrants -- ex-jihadists or members of Al-Qaeda."
"It is clear that uncontrolled landings on our shores have implications for the security of the European Union."
The EU has been examining proposals to beef up border surveillance and open up legal channels to reach Europe to deal with the boats packed with Syrian refugees that have been arriving in southern Italy.