France

Italy summons French ambassador over ‘hypocritical’ criticism on migrants

Italy had earlier said it would not accept "hypocritical lessons" from countries like France on migrants, in a growing row over 629 people stranded in the Mediterranean to whom the Italian government refused entry.

Rome was responding to French President Emmanuel Macron's accusation of "irresponsibility" over Italy's handling of the crisis.

"The statements concerning [the rescue ship] Aquarius that come from France are surprising … Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration," the new populist government said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The Italian government has never abandoned the almost 700 people aboard the Aquarius."

The migrants saved by the Aquarius, run by French NGO SOS Méditerranée, were stuck on the overloaded ship for over 30 hours as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them, before Spain stepped in and offered the
port in Valencia as a place for the migrants to land in Europe.

"After the refusal of Malta to allow the people aboard the Aquarius to disembark there, we received an unprecedented gesture of solidarity from Spain. The same cannot be said of France, which has often adopted much more rigid and cynical immigration policies," the Italian government says.

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Macron is due to receive new Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday ahead of a European Council meeting later this month, when migration is set to be high on the agenda.

"I'm pleased that they [France] have discovered responsibility. Let them open their ports and if they want we can send them a few people," Italy's deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio told reporters on Tuesday. He went on to slam France in a Facebook post, saying that they "hold back migrants every day at Ventimiglia", a border town between Italy and France and an immigration hot spot.

Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) that makes up Italy's new government alongside the nationalist League, said that it was "embarrassing" that France "preached to us" as Italy is asking its European partners to share the rights and duties in solidarity with Italy.

But there was also criticism from Spain, despite an early call for solidarity from its foreign minister. Justice Minister Dolores Delgado said that Italy may have violated international humanitarian law, while Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia region, commented: "Turning this into a political weapon is despicable… it is clear that Europe must act more wisely, but we cannot let these people die at sea."

READ ALSO: What rules apply to migrants rescued at sea?

Photo: Karpov/SOS Mediterranee/AFP

Italy's actions won praise, however, from the leaders of Hungary and Slovakia, two EU members that have fiercely resisted hosting asylum seekers.

"Finally!" said Hungary's anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at a meeting with his Slovak counterpart Peter Pellegrini on Tuesday. "I was tired of hearing for years on end that the maritime borders can't be protected! I am now convinced that what was lacking wasn't the capacity, but the will."

"We assure the Italian government of our complete support," he said, adding that he hoped Italy's stance "can bring a change to Europe's migration policy".

Yet Slovakia's premier insisted that "we refuse to let migrants enter our country", a stance that could bring him into conflict with Italy's new leaders, who have called for the automatic, compulsory resettlement of migrants across all EU countries.

The M5S-League government says that current EU rules, which require migrants to seek asylum wherever in Europe they first arrive, leave Italy and its southern neighbours bearing the brunt of mass migration across the Mediterranean.

The Aquarius is currently sailing for Valencia escorted by two Italian vessels, the Dattilo and Orione, which between them took on board more than 500 of the people rescued for the remainder of the 1,500-km journey after SOS Méditerranée said it was not safe for the Aquarius to continue unassisted.

READ MORE: Stranded migrants transferred to Italian ships

UPDATE – 20:00 si è concluso il trasferimento di 274 sopravvissuti sulla nave Dattilo della Guardia costiera italiana e di 250 sulla nave Orione della Marina italiana. La #Aquarius adesso ha a bordo 106 sopravvissuti: 51 donne, 45 uomini, 10 bambini. pic.twitter.com/jwWcRZ7dr6

— SOS MEDITERRANEE ITA (@SOSMedItalia) June 12, 2018

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