Macron apologises to Italy as row over migrant boat continues

Cheryl Sanders
June 14, 2018

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.

Italian Prime-Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed that he would meet with the French President.

Conte and Macron are due to hold talks on Friday ahead of a European summit. This was a honest talk...

Italy and Malta's rejection of the ship's passengers at the borders of their territorial waters, knowing some of those on board likely need global protection, denied those passengers the opportunity to exercise their right under European Union, refugee, and human rights law to seek asylum.

Sophie Beau said Wednesday in a news conference in Marseille, France, "it's a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe".

Italy's deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio struck a combative tone on Thursday.

Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn'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. It was eventually redirected to Spain.

Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports: on Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with 932 migrants aboard.

But Italy's foreign minister, Enzo Moavero, kept up the barrage by telling a French envoy that Macron's comments were "unjustifiable" and had compromised bilateral relations.

"We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone", Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, told the Senate.

Italy summoned France's envoy on Wednesday and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies, escalating a diplomatic standoff that is widening one of Europe's main political fault lines.

Macron later appealed for the two sides not to "give in to emotions that certain people are manipulating". The president also stressed that, over the past year, France and Italy have been working "hand in hand in an exemplary manner". It is now heading to Spain, which has said it will allow the ship to dock.

The row centres on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports. Italy coordinated Aquarius sea rescues, and the Italian Coast Guard directly saved almost 300 people and then transferred them to the NGO ship; Italy had the duty to promptly designate a safe place to disembark.

The port of Valencia is some 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from where the vessel had been on standby.

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