Italy Rejects French Criticism As Blocked Migrants Set Sail For Spain

ROME (Alliance News) - More than 600 migrants who were rescued from the Mediterranean and then ...

Alliance News 13 June, 2018 | 8:33AM
Email Form

ROME (Alliance News) - More than 600 migrants who were rescued from the Mediterranean and then denied entry to Italy and Malta embarked Tuesday on a 1,500-kilometre journey to Spain aboard the rescue boat Aquarius and two Italian vessels.

All 629 people were initially aboard Aquarius, a rescue boat run by the non-governmental organization SOS Mediterranee, after being rescued off the Libyan coast on the weekend.

Both Italy and Malta refused to let the migrants onto their shores, however, leaving them stranded on the high seas until Spain offered a mooring at the port of Valencia on Monday.

Doctors Without Borders, which runs the Aquarius jointly with SOS Mediterranee, said earlier Tuesday that it had transferred some of the refugees and migrants onto Italian coastguard and navy ships ahead of the four-day journey.

The Italian escort was announced after SOS Mediterranee warned that tackling the journey alone would have been too dangerous for the overloaded Aquarius. The rescuers were especially concerned about the weather, which was expected to decline.

SOS Mediterranee rescuer Alessandro Porro told RAI state broadcaster that his organization was relieved for the migrants, but stressed that the Spanish solution could not be a permanent fix because the Spanish coast is too far from migrant rescue locations.

For Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, denying docking rights to migrant rescue boats run by foreign NGOs is a way of forcing other EU nations to take in sea migrants.

According to multiple press reports, only the Italian navy and coastguard will in the future be allowed to disembark rescued migrants in Italian ports.

Italy's defiant stance has stirred both criticism and praise across the EU, with France calling the rejection of the migrants a "measure of irresponsibility" even as Hungary and Slovakia lauded Italy's move.

President Emmanuel Macron told a weekly cabinet meeting that international law held that the closest country had to take responsibility for persons rescued at sea, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.

The Italian position had been "evidence of a form of cynicism and a measure of irresponsibility," Griveaux said, apparently quoting Macron.

But Griveaux suggested that France would not be inclined to follow Spain's example in taking in the ship, dismissing a suggestion from the regional executive of Corsica that the Aquarius could be allowed to dock on the Mediterranean island.

"There is no question of creating a precedent that would tomorrow allow European countries to pass their own responsibilities off onto their European partners," the French spokesman said.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, in a phone call with his Spanish counterpart, offered assistance in dealing with passengers on the Aquarius who needed international protection, his office said.

Collomb also spoke to Salvini and discussed new proposals on European asylum policies that could address the concerns of member states who reject Italian demands for burden-sharing, Collomb's office added without giving further details.

Collomb invited both the Spanish and Italian ministers to Paris for what a source in his office said would be separate meetings on the migration issue.

Italy meanwhile dismissed France's criticism of its stance.

"Statements coming from France on the Aquarius affair are surprising and reveal a serious lack of information on what is really happening," the Italian government said in a statement.

"Italy cannot take hypocritical lessons from countries who have always preferred to look the other way on immigration issues."

Salvini, who hails from the far-right League and is member of a newly-installed populist and eurosceptic government, said he had found an ally in German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

The German politician leads the more conservative wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel's political bloc and has repeatedly criticized her decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015-16.

Speaking on the phone, Salvini and Seehofer agreed "to present a common proposal on the protection of [EU] external borders, also with the aim of wasting no more time," the Italian Interior Ministry said.

The announcement came a day after Seehofer cancelled the presentation of a highly touted plan to tighten German border controls, reportedly due to disagreements with Merkel.

By dpa correspondents

Copyright dpa

Email Form
About Author Alliance News

Alliance News provides Morningstar with continuously updating coverage of news affecting listed companies.