Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Italy economy minister cancels Paris meeting over migrant spat

Migrants aboard a boat Migrants aboard a boat
Steven Clarke | 15 June, 2018, 00:42

The migrant ship Aquarius is now headed to Valencia in Spain.

Italy's new far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has a hardline stance on immigration.

Spain stepped in and said the migrants could land at the port of Valencia.

On Wednesday Italy summoned the French ambassador after France's President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy of "irresponsibility" over its refusal to let the Aquarius dock.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends the "prise d'armes" military ceremony at the Invalides in Paris, France, June 11, 2018.

Italy for years has complained that it has been left largely alone to manage Europe's migrant crisis, but the new government says its firm stance has finally gotten the point across.

Salvini, who is also deputy premier and the leader of the anti-immigrant League party, called on France to apologise and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.

SOS Mediterranee, the aid group that operates the Aquarius, said Thursday the Italian coast guard boat leading the convoy chose to skirt Sardinia's east coast after high waves caused exhausted migrants aboard to be seasick.

"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

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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.

The migrants are traveling from the central Mediterranean Sea aboard the Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by aid group SOS Mediterranee, and two boats of the Italian government.

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

The German chancellor, who is working to pull together a Europe-wide deal on redistributing asylum seekers and find a more lasting solution to illegal migration involving enhanced controls along the European Union's external border, has dismissed the plan as in breach of EU law.

The French president's office said France didn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach global laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

"We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration".

Many states have fallen short of their pledge, made in 2015, to take some asylum seekers from Italy and Greece - the first port of call for most migrants given their long Mediterranean coastlines - and share the cost of their care.

He demanded that France move from "words to action and offer a sign of generosity" by taking more in.

A Dutch-flagged humanitarian ship, the Sea Watch 3, had offered to take them on board, but not without a written guarantee from the coastguard that it will be allowed to dock in an Italian port, which it did not receive.

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