Italy diplomatic tensions flare as migrants head to Spain

Pauline Gross
June 14, 2018

Diverting the rescue ship to Spain - some four days' away, with poor weather forecast - keeps the Aquarius away from the area where its search-and-rescue capacity is most needed, in worldwide waters off the Libyan coast, putting other lives at risk.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte decided not to cancel his Friday's visit to Paris following his phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron which put an end to a standoff over Italy's decision to deny access to Aquarius migrant ship, the Italian government press service said. Muscat highlighted however that Malta was willing to help avoid humanitarian crises. Spain finally granted the boat permission to dock in Valencia.

Mr Macron had suggested Italy's new leadership was attempting to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to take in the ship, instead of dealing with underlying issues such as development and security in the migrants' home countries.

Macron's comments sparked a fierce response from Rome, which called them "unacceptable" and summoned France's ambassador Wednesday.

"I'm glad the French have discovered responsibility".

"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 the bloc's countries manage migrants internally.

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

The UN refugee chief said on Wednesday Italy alone could not be blamed for a stand-off that has left hundreds of migrants stranded for days in the Mediterranean and Europe should do more to share the burden.

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But he stressed that "the reason why Italy said it had closed ports is something we need to listen to".

"We're doing a lot but it's true: Europe must do more and must do better to help Italy", she said.

However, the Sea Watch is still waiting to pick them up after asking for a written guarantee that it will be allowed to dock in an Italian port.

He also said that between January and May, France had sent back to Italy 10,249 migrants who had crossed their common border.

On Wednesday morning, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants aboard docked in Catania, Sicily, as the Aquarius headed into increasingly rough seas on its way to Valencia, where it is due to arrive on Saturday.

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

The number of migrants arriving in Italy began plummeting a year ago after the Italian government under the centre-left Democratic Party negotiated controversial deals with Libya that beefed up its capacity to better patrol its coasts and discouraged land-based smugglers. Some countries feel justified in stopping migrants from entering when they should have registered elsewhere.

Other reports by GizPress

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