Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Italy threatens to CANCEL Macron meeting as tensions SOAR in immigration clash

Italy threatens to CANCEL Macron meeting as tensions SOAR in immigration clash

Italy's new populist government - which under the leadership of nationalist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has taken a hardline stance on immigration - came under fire from its European Union neighbours after refusing to let a foreign charity boat carrying 629 migrants dock in Italy.

Italy's new economy minister shelved a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris as their countries traded barbs over the treatment of more than 600 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast at the weekend.

Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to a migrant ship earlier this week, setting off a bitter diplomatic spat between the two countries, with Italy's new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte considering putting off a meeting with Macron due on Friday.

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. The French president's office said France didn'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.

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

However, the Sea Watch is still waiting to pick them up, asking for a written guarantee that it will be allowed to dock in an Italian port.

"We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration".

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He also said that between January and May, France had sent back to Italy 10,249 migrants who had crossed their common border.

On Wednesday night, Conte and Macron held a "sincere talk" and agreed to jointly cooperate on issues related to migrant pressure.

"For me, the question of how we deal with the migration question is something of a litmus test for the future and the unity of Europe, and the interests of every country must be considered", she said.

Salvini has accused charities that rescue migrants of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

Two Italian naval vessels are escorting the ship to Spain after the Socialist government of new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered the Aquarius safe harbour Monday. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports.

Meanwhile, an Italian coast guard ship with more than 900 migrants on board has docked this morning in the Sicilian port of Catania. In practice, this has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people have entered in recent years.

The U.N. refugee agency has said that approximately 1,900 migrants came to Cyprus in about 40 boat trips since 2015.

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