Italy and France have patch up a row over im­mi­gra­tion as Pope Fran­cis urged politi­cians to work to­gether to help refugees and to re­spect their dig­nity.

Irish Examiner - - News - Steve Scherer

Italy and France tried to patch up a row over im­mi­gra­tion as Pope Fran­cis urged politi­cians ev­ery­where to work to­gether on help­ing refugees and re­spect their dig­nity.

Italy sum­moned France’s en­voy on Wednesday and de­manded an apol­ogy from Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who had said Rome’s move to block a mi­grant res­cue ship from its ports was an act of “cyn­i­cism and ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity”.

Mr Macron, in a late night phone call on Wednesday with Ital­ian prime min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte, said he did not mean to of­fend “Italy and the Ital­ian peo­ple”, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment.

The two lead­ers con­firmed a lunch meet­ing for to­day to dis­cuss “new ini­tia­tives” on im­mi­gra­tion, a day af­ter Ital­ian in­te­rior min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini an­nounced an “axis” with Ger­many and Aus­tria to fight il­le­gal mi­gra­tion.

“France does not want es­ca­la­tion; it’s counter-pro­duc­tive. We need to main­tain di­a­logue,” said a source close to Mr Macron as the pres­i­dent vis­ited the western town of Rochefort.

How­ever, the source added that Mr Macron was not “tak­ing back any­thing”.

Mr Salvini has vowed to con­tinue to block for­eign hu­man­i­tar­ian boats from Ital­ian ports as Eu­rope wres­tles with how to share the re­spon­si­bil­ity of han­dling mi­grants try­ing to en­ter the EU from war zones and poor coun­tries, largely across Africa and the Mid­dle East.

More than 1.8m 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. A EU sum­mit will dis­cuss the bloc’s asy­lum rules at the end of the month.

Pope Fran­cis, who has made the de­fence of refugees a plank of his pa­pacy, re­buked politi­cians for not re­spect­ing the dig­nity of mi­grants and de­manded “a change in mind­set”.

Speak­ing at a con­fer­ence on mi­gra­tion at the Vat­i­can, the Pope said coun­tries must work to­gether and “move from con­sid­er­ing oth­ers as threats to our com­fort to valu­ing them as per­sons whose life ex­pe­ri­ence and val­ues can con­trib­ute greatly to the en­rich­ment of our so­ci­ety”.

The row cen­tred on the char­ity ship Aquar­ius, which both Italy and Malta re­fused to let dock at their ports. It was car­ry­ing 629 mi­grants and is head­ing to Spain, which has of­fered safe har­bour, es­corted by two Ital­ian ships.

Now the mi­grants are suf­fer­ing from sea sick­ness due to rough con­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to Doc­tors with­out Bor­ders, one of the char­i­ties that runs the Aquar­ius.

Among the mi­grants are women and small chil­dren who are not ex­pected to dis­em­bark be­fore to­mor­row evening. They were res­cued off the coast of Libya last week.

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