Italy and France spar over rejected refugee ship

Italy and France spar over rejected refugee ship

Italy and France spar over rejected refugee ship

Italy earlier this week demanded an apology from Macron after the French president accused Italy's populist government of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its decision to close the country's ports to a vessel carrying more than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

The two leaders confirmed a lunch meeting for 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. Muscat highlighted however that Malta was willing to help avoid humanitarian crises.

Macron's comments sparked a fierce response from Rome, which called them "unacceptable" and summoned France's ambassador Wednesday. The EU plan, which was meant to relieve pressure on Italy and Greece, has largely flopped, with only a handful of countries receiving their share of newcomers.

Spanish deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo says the arrival of the migrants will be staggered, with a few hours in between the three ships, in order to allow the best medical, psychological and legal assistance by authorities and aid groups.

France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

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He also said that between January and May, France had sent back to Italy 10,249 migrants who had crossed their common border.

SOS Mediterranee, the aid group that operates the Aquarius, said Thursday the Italian coast guard boat leading the convoy chose to skirt Sardinia's east coast after high waves caused exhausted migrants aboard to be seasick.

"We hope this meeting will be able to take place very quickly", he said in a ministry statement. However, the source added that Macron was not "taking back anything".

This June 12, 2018 photo released Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" shows migrants being transferred from the Aquarius ship to Italian Coast Guard boats, in the Mediterranean Sea.

It was carrying 629 migrants and is heading to Spain, which has offered safe harbour, escorted by two Italian ships.

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Italy's new government is demanding other countries take rescued migrants.

The German chancellor, who is working to pull together a Europe-wide deal on redistributing asylum seekers and find a more lasting solution to illegal migration involving enhanced controls along the European Union's external border, has dismissed the plan as in breach of EU law.

"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.

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.

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