Italy and France trade insults as migration row boils over

Viktor Orban

Some countries feel justified in stopping migrants from entering when they should have registered elsewhere.

Macron had blasted Italy for its "cynicism and irresponsibility" in refusing to welcome 629 migrants left stranded on an French rescue ship in the Mediterranean before Spain agreed to take them in.

France and Italy traded insults, rifts widened in Germany's ruling coalition and Austria called for an "axis of the willing" to take action as a simmering row over how Europe should handle irregular migration finally boiled over. Spain has offered to take it in and the ship is now on the dayslong voyage to Valencia.

"The Italian government has never abandoned the nearly 700 people aboard the Aquarius", it said in a statement on Tuesday.

In Germany, the hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer, pulled out of an integration summit hosted by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, saying Berlin should cooperate with Vienna and Rome in combating illegal immigration.

"The same can not be said of France, which has often adopted much more rigid and cynical immigration policies".

Seehofer has put himself on a collision course with Merkel, his coalition ally, by pushing a tougher line on immigration, including a proposal as part of a new draft national "migrant masterplan" that Germany should turn away at the border migrants registered in other European Union states.

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"The law is when a boat is in trouble it's the country and the port that's closest that provides the rescue", Le Drian said.

Salvini has repeatedly vowed to stem the flow of migrants to Italy, which has seen more than 700,000 arrive on its shores since 2013.

Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) that makes up Italy's new government alongside the League, minister of labour and, with Salvini, joint deputy prime minister, said that it was "embarrassing" that France "preached to us" as Italy is asking its European partners to share duties with Italy. Matteo Salvini accused France of turning back 10,000 migrants on its border with Italy.

"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 the bloc's countries manage migrants internally.

He has accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself. "The coastguard and navy can continue to save lives, but other countries need to keep giving us a hand", he said.

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

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