Italy, France ten­sions flare as mi­grants head to Spain

The Western Star - - WORLD -

Italy es­ca­lated its quar­rel with France over mi­gra­tion Wed­nes­day, chal­leng­ing the bor­der­ing coun­try to take in more asy­lum­seek­ers 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 Fri­day 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 an­timi­grant 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 Sea 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 asy­lum­seek­ers.

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 Mon­day.

The Aquar­ius and two Ital­ian ships that took on some of the 629 pas­sen­gers are ex­pected to ar­rive in Va­len­cia on Satur­day night, weather con­di­tions per­mit­ting, said SOS Mediter­ra­nee 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 (930 miles) 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.

Lashing out at the French govern­ment, Salvini said France had taken in only a frac­tion of the 9,816 mi­grants it had pledged to ac­cept un­der a 2015 EU re­lo­ca­tion plan. The EU plan, which was in­tended to re­lieve pres­sure on Italy and Greece, has largely flopped, with only a hand­ful of coun­tries re­ceiv­ing their share of new­com­ers.

“So I ask Pres­i­dent Macron to pass from words to ac­tion and to­mor­row morn­ing, wel­come the 9,000 France promised to wel­come as a sign of con­crete gen­eros­ity and not just words,’’ Salvini said.

France has ad­mit­ted 635 mi­grants un­der the terms of the plan, ac­cord­ing to EU fig­ures.

The line Italy drew with the Aquar­ius ap­peared to be a tac­tic by the populist govern­ment sworn in this month to force Eu­rope’s hand at a sum­mit of EU lead­ers in Brus­sels set for June 28-29.

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.

“I think we’ve never been so cen­tral and so heard as we have been over the last hours,’’ Salvini told the sen­a­tors, adding that sym­pa­thetic of­fi­cials from Ger­many and else­where had con­tacted him to ap­plaud his po­si­tion.

AP PHOTO

In this photo re­leased Wed­nes­day, June 13, 2018 by French NGO “SOS Mediter­ra­nee” shows mi­grants wav­ing af­ter be­ing trans­ferred from the Aquar­ius ship to Ital­ian Coast Guard boats, in the Mediter­ranean Sea.

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