Macron apologises to Italy as row over migrant boat continues

Evarado Alatorre
Junio 15, 2018

The Aquarius is headed to Valencia in Spain after Italy shut its ports to hundreds of migrants onboard earlier in the week.

Italy escalated its standoff with France over migration Wednesday, challenging Paris to take in more asylum-seekers and demanding an apology after the French president accused the new populist Italian government of cynical, irresponsible behaviour by refusing entry to a rescue ship with 600 people aboard. Muscat highlighted however that Malta was willing to help avoid humanitarian crises.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the arrival of the migrants will be staggered, with a few hours in between the three ships, in order to allow the best medical, psychological and legal assistance by authorities and aid groups.

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. The EU plan, which was meant to relieve pressure on Italy and Greece, has largely flopped, with only a handful of countries receiving their share of newcomers.

"With my German and Austrian colleagues. we will propose a new [immigration] initiative", Salvini said, adding that it would apply both to the EU's external borders and to how member states manage migrants internally.

France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

In his speech, Salvini shot back and said France had turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy's northern border since January "including women, children and disabled people".

In Geneva, the head of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, also Italian, said Wednesday Italy was "right" to say it could not accept all the migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

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The French government was more conciliatory Wednesday, when the Foreign Ministry said France recognized the burden Italy has carried.

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.

Matteo Salvini has repeatedly accused fellow European Union members of abandoning Italy as it struggles to cope with an influx of migrants.

Mr Salvini called on Mr Macron to apologise.

More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.

Italy's Conte later said on Facebook he would take to Paris "Italy's request for broad collaboration and solidarity on immigration at a European level". "We need to maintain dialogue", a source close to Macron said as the president visited the western town of Rochefort.

Salvini has accused charities that rescue migrants of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

According to reports, the Italian Coast Guard brought supplies to the migrants, and two vessels are reportedly guiding the ship to Spain.

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