French and Ital­ian lead­ers to meet to­day amid clash over mi­gra­tion

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

The French pres­i­dent’s of­fice has con­firmed the visit to France of Ital­ian Premier Giuseppe Conte to meet with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron to­day.

The Élysée said in a state­ment yes­ter­day that Macron and Conte had spo­ken by phone on Wednesday amid an es­ca­lat­ing clash be­tween the two coun­tries over mi­gra­tion.

Italy de­manded an apol­ogy af­ter the French pres­i­dent ac­cused the new Ital­ian gov­ern­ment of ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour for re­fus­ing en­try to a res­cue ship with 629 mi­grants aboard.

Macron said he “had not made any com­ment in­tended to of­fend Italy and the Ital­ian peo­ple,” the state­ment said.

Both lead­ers dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion of the ship Aquar­ius and agreed on France and Italy’s com­mit­ment to or­gan­ise emer­gency aid un­der hu­man­i­tar­ian rules to as­sist peo­ple in dan­ger, ac­cord­ing to the French pres­i­dency. Ger­many.

Aus­tria’s con­ser­va­tive Chan­cel­lor Se­bas­tian Kurz, who since De­cem­ber has led a coali­tion gov­ern­ment with the anti-mi­gra­tion Free­dom Party, pro­posed the idea on Wednesday of an “axis of the will­ing” — made up of Rome, Vi­enna and Ber­lin — to co­op­er­ate in tack­ling il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Salvini has ac­cused Eu­ro­pean aid groups of es­sen­tially op­er­at­ing taxi ser­vices for Libyabased hu­man traf­fick­ers and said Italy will now refuse their res­cue ships en­try.

Ital­ian mar­itime ves­sels that have picked up Eu­rope-bound mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean still are en­ter­ing the ports; on Wednesday, an Ital­ian coast guard ves­sel docked in Cata­nia, Si­cily with 932 mi­grants on board.

Italy’s argument with France came af­ter Macron on Tuesday blasted what he called Italy’s cyn­i­cism and ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity in turn­ing away the Aquar­ius. The French pres­i­dent’s of­fice said France didn’t want to “start a prece­dent” that would al­low some Eu­ro­pean coun­tries to breach in­ter­na­tional laws and rely on other EU mem­ber states to take in mi­grants.

The French gov­ern­ment was more con­cil­ia­tory on Wednesday, when the for­eign min­istry said that France recog­nised the bur­den Italy has car­ried.

Macron and new Ital­ian Premier Giuseppe Conte were sched­uled to meet in Paris to­day, but Ital­ian news agency ANSA said on Wednesday the meet­ing might be post­poned be­cause the con­di­tions weren’t right. Conte’s of­fice re­fused to con­firm the re­port.

Ear­lier in the day, the Ital­ian For­eign Min­istry said it had sum­moned the French am­bas­sador to com­plain that the French com­ments about the Aquar­ius were “un­ac­cept­able.”

It added that Italy was wait­ing for the French to take ac­tion to “heal the sit­u­a­tion that has been cre­ated.” Un­der the EU’s asy­lum laws – cur­rently the sub­ject of a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal dis­pute and un­der re­vi­sion – mi­grants must ap­ply for asy­lum in the coun­try where they first en­ter Eu­rope. In prac­tice, the pol­icy has placed a heavy bur­den on Italy and Greece, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of asy­lum-seek­ers have ar­rived in re­cent years.

A boat loaded with 55 peo­ple who were thought to be Syr­ian refugees landed om Wednesday on the north­west coast of Cyprus, a Mediter­ranean is­land split into eth­ni­cally Greek and Turkish sides. A po­lice of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rised to speak pub­licly, told the As­so­ci­ated Press there were 54 men and one woman aboard the boat.

The UN refugee agency has said that ap­prox­i­mately 1,900 mi­grants have ar­rived in Cyprus in about 40 boat trips since 2015.

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