Four-country migrant ship standoff escalates as Italy demands apology from France

Italy's foreign minister summoned the French ambassador to Rome in an escalating row over the Italian government's decision to block access for a migrant rescue ship.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini chided French President Emmanuel Macron by name during a speech before Parliament's upper chamber, while Italian news reports said a meeting between Macron and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte planned for Friday now was in doubt.

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.

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.

Calvo said minors and women are a priority, especially those who may have been trafficked or exploited in their attempts to reach Europe. Rome says the rescue vessel's passengers never were in danger and argues that other European countries must share the work of welcoming would-be asylum-seekers.

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

Following the standoff between Italy and Malta on the migrant rescue on Monday, MaltaToday took to the streets of Valletta to find out what the public thinks on the matter.

More news: Fed Lifts Interest Rates, Expects 3.6% Unemployment

"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday. He declared his support for Kurz's proposal for a three-way "axis of the willing" with Italy to fight illegal migration.

The country has seen more than 700,000 migrants arrive on its shores since 2013.

Despite criticism from the pope and the United Nations refugee agency, which called the treatment of the migrants on the Aquarius "shameful", Salvini has not changed his position.

On Wednesday morning, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants and two bodies aboard docked in Catania, Sicily, while the Aquarius headed into increasingly rough seas on its way to Valencia, where it is due to arrive on Saturday.

The French president's office said France didn'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.

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

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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