Italy diplomatic tensions flare as migrants head to Spain

Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbor after Italy and Malta both refused.

13 June 2018 | 11:38

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 13 June 2018 | 11:38

This photo shows an Italian Coast Guard boat approaching the French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" Aquarius ship as migrants are being transferred, in the Mediterranean Sea, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. (AP Photo)

CATANIA, Sicily: Italy summoned the French ambassador for consultations Wednesday after France accused the new populist Italian government of cynical, irresponsible behavior by refusing entry to a migrant ship, evidence that the standoff is having continent-wide repercussions.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was to brief Parliament later Wednesday on the situation as the Aquarius and its 629 passengers continued its dayslong, westward voyage to Spain.

Italy has defended its decision to refuse the Aquarius entry, saying it has never abandoned the ship operated by the aid group SOS Mediterranee and is escorting it to Valencia. Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbor after Italy and Malta both refused.

On Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with more than 900 migrants aboard in a sign that Italy under the populist 5-Star Movement and anti-migrant League is still accepting some migrants, but is forcing other countries to share the burden. Two corpses were also aboard the vessel Diciotto.

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. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports.

French President Emmanuel Macron criticized what he called Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius, which is operated by SOS Mediterranee and the French-founded Doctors Without Borders. Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach international laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

Salvini shot back that France has turned away thousands of migrants trying to reach France at Italy's northern border. He accused France of having caused the instability in Libya that has allowed smuggling networks to thrive by spearheading the 2011 NATO-led military campaign that led to the downfall of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

"Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons about migration from countries that have always preferred to look away," said a statement from the office of Premier Giuseppe Conte.

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