Italy and France try to patch up mi­grant row

French am­bas­sador sum­moned in refugee boat dis­pute, pope re­bukes politi­cians

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

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

Italy sum­moned France’s en­voy Wed­nes­day and de­manded an apol­ogy from French 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.”

Macron, in a phone call late Wed­nes­day with Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte, said he did not mean to of­fend “Italy and the Ital­ian peo­ple,” a state­ment said.

The two lead­ers con­firmed a lunch meet­ing Fri­day 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 coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. We need to main­tain di­a­logue,” a source close to Macron said as the pres­i­dent vis­ited the western town of Rochefort. How­ever, the source added that Macron was not “tak­ing back any­thing.”

Italy’s Conte later said on Face­book he would take to Paris “Italy’s re­quest for broad col­lab­o­ra­tion and sol­i­dar­ity on im­mi­gra­tion at a Euro­pean level.” Conte will meet Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in Berlin Mon­day.

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 1.8 mil­lion 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 Euro­pean Union sum­mit will dis­cuss the bloc’s asy­lum rules at the end of the month.

Pope Fran­cis, who has made the de­fense 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 cen­tered 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 har­bor, es­corted by two Ital­ian ships.

Some 80 mi­grants suf­fered from sea sick­ness Thurs­day due to rough con­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to Doc­tors with­out Bor­ders (MSF), one of the char­i­ties that runs the Aquar­ius.

Ropes have been strung around the ship to make it eas­ier to walk on deck, video from the Aquar­ius showed. Among the mi­grants are women and small chil­dren who are not ex­pected to dis­em­bark be­fore Satur­day evening. They were rescued off the coast of Libya last week.

De­spite crit­i­cism from the pope and the U.N. refugee agency, which called the treat­ment of the mi­grants on the Aquar­ius “shame­ful,” Salvini has not changed his po­si­tion.

“Ships be­long­ing to for­eign or­ga­ni­za­tions and fly­ing for­eign flags can­not dic­tate Italy’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy,” said Salvini, who also heads the anti-immigrant League party. –

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