Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Boat carrying over 900 migrants docks in Italy

Viktor Orban GETTYViktor Orban has backed Italy's migration policies
Kenny Thornton | 14 June, 2018, 12:47

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told Wednesday's Corriere Della Sera newspaper that ships belonging to foreign organisations and flying foreign flags could not dictate Italy's immigration policy.

Italy's rejection of a migrant ship is shameful but the responsibility lies with Europe as a whole, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Wednesday.

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 European Union relocation plan.

Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to a migrant ship earlier this week, setting off a bitter diplomatic spat between the two countries, with Italy's new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte considering putting off a meeting with Macron due on Friday.

The French government was more conciliatory Wednesday, when the Foreign Ministry said France recognized the burden Italy has carried.

"It is shameful. As a European, I felt shame - shame - that there was a boat - there is a boat - in the Mediterranean, and for several days nobody wanted to take these people", he said Wednesday, as the migrant-packed vessel rejected by Italy was on its way to Spain.

"So I ask President Macron to pass from words to action and tomorrow morning, welcome the 9,000 France promised to welcome as a sign of concrete generosity and not just words", Salvini said. 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.

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Macron suggested Rome was trying to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to accept the ship instead of tackling the underlying problems of development and security in migrants' home countries and smuggling rings.

France said it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, and that it believed the planned meeting between Macron and Conte would go ahead.

Italy has postponed high-level talks with France after Paris accused Rome of acting "irresponsibly" by turning away hundreds of stranded migrants on board a rescue boat.

Many states have fallen short of their pledge, made in 2015, to take some asylum seekers from Italy and Greece - the first port of call for most migrants given their long Mediterranean coastlines - and share the cost of their care.

Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers, and has said Italy will now refuse them entry.

"With my German and Austrian colleagues. we will propose a new [immigration] initiative", Salvini said, adding that it would apply both to the EU's external borders and to how member states manage migrants internally.

A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, told the Associated Press there were 54 men and one woman aboard the boat.

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