The European Union should replicate its controversial Turkey migrant returns deal with African nations, Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said in a Tuesday interview with the Financial Times newspaper.
In an agreement first implemented on Monday, the EU is giving Turkey 6 billion euros (6.8 billion dollars) for taking back irregular migrants who land in Greece. For each returned Syrian migrant, the bloc has pledged to take in a Syrian refugee living in Turkey.
Alfano said stemming migration inflows through more effective return policies was essential. "If returns don't work, the whole Juncker migration agenda will fail," he said, referring to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The minister stressed the difficulty of keeping migrants with pending repatriation orders locked up in camps.
"So how many tens of thousands of people can you keep, year after year? Without returns, either you organize real prisons, or it's obvious that the system will collapse," Alfano said. "It doesn't take a prophet to glimpse the future," he added.
Last year, almost 154,000 sea migrants landed in Italy, and around 15,000 were repatriated on the grounds of bilateral deals with north African nations. Alfano has repeatedly said these deals would be more effective if negotiated by the whole of the EU.
In the Financial Times interview, he also repeated the idea of setting up migrant processing centres "in as many countries as we can along the [migration] route to explain to people that they will be sent back."
Since border controls along the so-called Balkan route from Turkey to Germany have been stepped up, Italy has been concerned that migrant flows will be rerouted towards its shores. In the first three months of 2016, there has been an 85-per-cent year-on-year jump in arrivals.
Most incomers are Africans, but Alfano said Syrians may also start coming in.
"If Syrians don't want to stay in Turkey but want to try the trip to Europe, they will go around and try to get here from Libya," he said. "We still don't have any evidence that this is happening, but we are monitoring," he added.