Greece and Italy deny report on US plan to resettle migrants

ATHENS/ROME (Reuters) - Greece and Italy denied on Friday a report that said they had agreed with the United States to resettle some migrants from Latin America on their territory in an effort to discourage them from travelling to the U.S. border with Mexico.

CBS News reported on Thursday that the scheme would involve Greece and Italy welcoming a small number of migrants processed at migration offices that the U.S. administration set up last year in four Latin America countries to screen people who hope to reach the United States.

"The CBS report is untrue. There is neither an agreement nor a request from the U.S. to resettle legal immigrants in Greece," Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis wrote on X on Friday.

A source at Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's office called the U.S. network's story "completely misleading" but also confirmed that Italy and the U.S. were in the early stages of discussing a very small-scale migrant exchange programme.

The U.S. would take some migrants from Libya while "some European Mediterranean states would host a few dozen" asylum seekers from Latin America, the source said, adding Italy would be expected to take "around 20" Venezuelans of Italian origin.

A separate source at the interior ministry said: "Italy would never agree to relocate hundreds of people on its territory given the already very considerable efforts it is making in terms of welcoming migrants."

Greece and Italy routinely complain that they are the European countries most exposed to Mediterranean sea arrivals. The arrivals peaked in 2015, in the wake of the civil war in Syria, but have since fallen significantly.

Both countries are run by conservative governments that have taken a hard line on immigration. Italy has clinched a deal with Albania to build processing centres for migrants that it will send back across the Adriatic Sea to its Balkan neighbour.

That accord has similarities with Britain's plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in East Africa as a deterrent to further migrant journeys in small boats across the Channel from France organised by human traffickers.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order next week to curb migration along the U.S. southern border with Mexico, two sources familiar with the plans said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Alvise Armellini in Rome; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Gareth Jones)