Sunday, 26 May, 2019

Macron 'never meant to offend' Italy with migrant comments

UN: Boat carrying over 900 migrants docks in Italy
Deanna Wagner | 15 June, 2018, 00:41

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.

The French leader's comments sparked a heated diplomatic row between the two countries, with Italy's newly elected Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatening to call off a meeting with Mr Macron due on Friday. Grivaux said Macron criticized what he called Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the ship, stuck off Italy's shores with hundreds of migrants onboard.

Macron later appealed for the two sides not to "give in to emotions that certain people are manipulating".

Amid rough seas, the Italian coastguard redirected the Aquarius rescue ship on Thursday along the east coast of Sardinia. It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, which offered safe harbour, escorted by two Italian ships.

France was not alone in its criticism.

Italy's rejection of the migrants has again highlighted the glaring differences between European Union member states over how to the issue of asylum seekers.

"I speak in the name of a government, but I also have the aim of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity", Salvini, the leader of the anti-migrant League party, said to applause in the Senate chamber.

This comes as the Italian government has urged its European counterparts to take in more asylum seekers. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said France was "fully aware of the burden that the migration pressure is placing on Italy" and that it was committed to cooperating with Rome on immigration.

"The minister #GiovanniTria has cancelled his meeting with the French Minister of the Economy and Finance (Bruno) #LeMaire", his ministry said on Twitter.

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Macron said he "had not made any comment meant to offend Italy and the Italian people", the statement said.

It added that Italy was waiting for French to take action to "heal the situation that has been created".

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European nation where they first arrive.

After meeting in Berlin, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer echoed Salvini. "We need to maintain dialogue", a source close to Macron said as the president visited the western town of Rochefort.

On Wednesday, she said discussions between Italy, Germany and Austria were about finding "a Europe-wide solution".

As EU politicians have dithered or traded blame, refugees have continued to arrive.

This June 12, 2018 photo released Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" shows migrants being transferred from the Aquarius ship to Italian Coast Guard boats, in the Mediterranean Sea.

A U.S. Navy ship recovered 40 survivors after a shipwreck on Tuesday, but it still had not disembarked them on Thursday.