Lyon – French security and emergency forces took part in a drill simulating a terrorist attack on a stadium in Lyon as a group of EU interior ministers met elsewhere in the city to discuss migration and the fight against terrorism.
Migration and terrorism on agenda
Several hundred members of the police, emergency services and actors playing terrorists were involved in the training exercise at the stadium of the premier-division football club Olympique Lyon.
Actors pretending to be terrorists attacked the stadium with explosives and automatic rifles; special police forces then stormed the building by using armoured vehicles and drones.
Interior ministers from six EU countries and representatives from the EU Commission, the US and from Tunisia were taking part in the meeting in Lyon, which began on Monday evening.
Among those present was Italy’s Matteo Salvini – the far-right, anti-immigration interior minister who has repeatedly clashed with other EU states on the issue.
Salvini, who has barred charity ships rescuing migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean from Italian ports, boasted after talks on Tuesday that other EU member states were increasingly coming around to his hard line against migration.
“More than one” minister had cited – with approval – Australia’s policy of holding all refugees and migrants who arrive by sea in offshore detention camps, Salvini said.
“I have to say that while until four months ago we were [called] racist, selfish, populist, ignorant supporters of national sovereignty, now the Italian model of managing immigration and closing ports as necessary is gaining support,” he argued.
Salvini’s presence did not in the end provoke any fireworks, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Malaska said.
Support for North African countries
“There were no clear divisions, no confrontations. Not at all,” Grande-Malaska insisted. “There were positions and we are simply trying to achieve a common understanding.”
French junior interior minister Jacqueline Gourault said that, despite “different approaches” to migration at times, “the debate was very useful in identifying clear points of convergence.”
European states should give “absolute support” to North African countries, including their coast guards, in intercepting migrant boats, she said.
Gourault cited in particular Morocco, but the issue has been particularly controversial due to EU support for the Libyan coast guard, which brings intercepted migrants back to detention centres in the war-torn country whose conditions are condemned by rights groups.
On the thorny issue of responsibility for migrants and refugees who make it to European shores, Gourault said that burden-sharing – demanded by Italy and other frontline states and supported by French President Emmanuel Macron – “can take different forms.”
Other representatives at the gathering were the Polish, British and Spanish interior ministers alongside Germany’s parliamentary secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, Stephan Mayer.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a representative from the US Department of Homeland Security joined the meeting on Tuesday.