Migrant aid ship on way to Spain as Italy draws deeper line
In the meantime, Italy escalated its quarrel with France over migration, challenging the bordering country to take in more asylum-seekers and demanding an apology after the French president accused the new Italian government of irresponsible behaviour for refusing entry to a rescue ship with hundreds of migrants aboard.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini chided French President Emmanuel Macron by name during a speech before Parliament’s upper chamber, while Italian news reports said a meeting between Macron and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte planned for today now was in doubt.
“I speak in the name of a government, but I also have the aim of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity,” Salvini, the leader of the anti-migrant League party, said to applause in the senate chamber.
In other signs of the continuing clash, Italy summoned the French ambassador for consultations, cancelled a planned meeting between finance ministers and warned that diplomatic relations between the two European Union members had been compromised.
Italy has received both criticism and praise for turning away the Aquarius rescue ship over the weekend as it made its way across the Mediterranean carrying 629 migrants. Rome says the rescue vessel’s passengers never were in danger and argues that other European countries must share the work of welcoming would-be asylum-seekers.
Two Italian naval vessels are escorting the ship to Spain after the Socialist government of new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered the Aquarius safe harbour on Monday.
The Aquarius and two Italian ships that took on some of the 629 passengers were expected to arrive in Valencia on Saturday night, weather conditions permitting, said SOS Mediterranée co-founder Sophie Beau, whose charity operates the aid ship. If the timeline holds, that would be a week after the Aquarius first sought permission to dock in Italy.
The port of Valencia is some 1,500 kilometres from where the vessel had been on standby.
“It’s a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors, to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe,” Beau told reporters in Marseille, France.
The aid group said yesterday that the Italian coast guard boat leading the convoy decided to skirt Sardinia’s east coast after high waves caused exhausted migrants aboard to be seasick.
Spain offered safe harbour after Italy, which wants fellow European Union countries to do more, refused to do so.
SOS Mediterranée said men who were still on the deck of the Aquarius exposed to the elements were dizzy and vomiting and were taken inside the ship to be treated for seasickness.