Migrant aid ship on way to Spain as Italy, France spar
ROME — Italy escalated its quarrel with France over migration Wednesday, 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 behavior 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 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, canceled 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 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 harbor 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.
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.