Boat carrying over 900 migrants docks in Italy

Marsha Scott
June 15, 2018

The migrants aboard the Aquarius, run by French NGO SOS Mediterranee, were stuck on the overloaded ship as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them.

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

Italy's move almost sparked a diplomatic row, with prime minister Giuseppe Conte considering postponing a meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron.

The Spanish authorities then said they were ready to let the Aquarius dock in its eastern port of Valencia.

With xenophobia on the rise across the continent and hard-right parties either in government or riding high in the polls from Italy in the south to Sweden on the north, immigration has become an issue of existential importance for the bloc.

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.

European Union member states are deeply divided over how to deal with asylum seekers.

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Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte - who is due to meet Macron in Paris on Friday - "would be right not to go to France" should such an apology not arrive. The Aquarius, with some 600 people saved from the sea over the last few weeks, is sailing to Spain after the country agreed to welcome the ship.

More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.

The Aquarius has no showers or sinks for migrants on the ship, and the rescue workers rely on disinfectant spray to use for people's hands before their meals.

He called for stronger external controls, cooperation with Africa, sending home migrants who were not entitled to remain, and countering traffickers. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said France was "fully aware of the burden that the migration pressure is placing on Italy" and that it was committed to cooperating with Rome on immigration.

Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports: on Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with 932 migrants aboard.

Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach worldwide laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive. In practice, this has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people have entered in recent years.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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