June 18, 2018

Ship with 900 migrants on board docks in Sicily

14 June 2018, 03:58 | Taylor George

GETTYMatteo Salvini's decision to block a migrant ship docking in Italy has been criticised by France

Matteo Salvini emmanuel Macron

Mr Macron had suggested Italy's new leadership was attempting to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to take in the ship, instead of dealing with underlying issues such as development and security in the migrants' home countries.

"France a year ago received a record number of asylum seekers", she said, referring to the 100,000 asylum requests received by the country.

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

On Monday, Spain said that it would be welcoming the Aquarius and allowing it to dock in Valencia.

The row centres on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports.

Interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is deputy premier and leader of the anti-immigrant League Party, called on Mr Macron to apologise and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.

The port of Valencia is some 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from where the vessel had been on standby.

French President Emmanuel Macron had blasted what he called Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius, which is operated by the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee and the French-founded Doctors Without Borders.

But he stressed that "the reason why Italy said it had closed ports is something we need to listen to".

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Meanwhile, the German NGO Sea Watch said it would take on board the 40 migrants rescued by the US Navy Tuesday off the coast Libya, where 12 other migrants died, but only if Italy agreed to open its ports to NGO vessels.

Italian Prime-Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed that he would meet with the French President.

"We need to listen" to Italy, Grandi said, stating that the nation's populist government was "right to say" the nation can not welcome every boat of third world migrants wishing to make Europe their home.

"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the Italian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the French ambassador to complain that the French comments about the Aquarius were "unacceptable".

Italy and Malta's actions flout worldwide maritime norms.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of a major political dispute and under revision - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe. That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.

A boat loaded with 55 people who were thought to be Syrian refugees landed Wednesday on the northwest coast of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island split into ethnically Greek and Turkish sides.

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