Italy diplomatic tensions flare as migrants head to Spain

Marco Green
June 14, 2018

United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi urged the European Union on Wednesday to sort out its "shameful" refugee policy after both Italy and Malta turned away a ship carrying hundreds of migrants. Some countries feel justified in stopping migrants from entering when they should have registered elsewhere.

Macron said Rome had acted "with cynicism and irresponibility" by turning away the migrant ship Aquarius.

Grandi applauded Spain for agreeing to take the ship but noted that Italy had borne the greatest burden of migrants arriving from Libya over the past few years.

"The Italian government has never abandoned the nearly 700 people aboard the Aquarius", it said in a statement on Tuesday.

France is "perfectly aware" of the pressure on Italy as it copes with an influx of migrants from Africa, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

France tried to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

"If an official apology doesn't arrive, prime minister Conte would be right not to go to France", Salvini told reporters after demanding that France take in more migrants.

Italy's rejection of the migrants has again highlighted the glaring differences between European Union member states over how to the issue of asylum seekers.

The chancellor said migration represented a significant challenge for Europe when it was in a "very fragile situation".

In Germany, the hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer, pulled out of an integration summit hosted by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, saying Berlin should cooperate with Vienna and Rome in combating illegal immigration.

He has accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

Salvini has repeatedly vowed to stem the flow of migrants to Italy, which has seen more than 700,000 arrive on its shores since 2013.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Wednesday that without an "official apology" from France, a planned meeting between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday should be cancelled.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of revision amid a major political dispute - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

"So I ask President Macron to pass from words to action and tomorrow morning welcome the 9,000 France promised to welcome as a sign of concrete generosity and not just words", Salvini said to applause in the Senate chamber.

"We have put a stop to the NGOs".

An Italian coast guard vessel has docked in Sicily with more than 900 migrants aboard, evidence that Italy's new anti-migrant government is still taking in some asylum-seekers but is forcing the rest of Europe to accept others.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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