Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Italy summons French envoy as migration dispute escalates

Italy summons French envoy as migration dispute escalates

Italy summoned France's envoy and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies on Wednesday, escalating a diplomatic standoff between the neighbouring European powers.

"President Macron underscored that he did not say anything that was meant to offend Italy or the Italian people", a statement from the Italian prime minister's office said, adding that "Macron and Conte agreed that with the end-June European Union summit looming, it is necessary that new initiatives are discussed together".

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini then suggested that Conte call off the meeting with Macron and demanded that France apologize.

The ship had been drifting in the central Mediterranean since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta closed their ports to it.

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.

The incident prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to accuse Italy's new populist government of "cynicism and irresponsibility" for closing its ports to the 629 migrants.

An Italian coastguard ship carrying more than 900 migrants was allowed to dock in Sicily Wednesday, after Italy controversially turned away a separate foreign vessel with rescued migrants on board.

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On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hailed cooperation between the hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy on the question of migrants.

He said that between January and May, France had sent 10,249 migrants back to Italy.

Salvini's League campaigned during the March 4 national election on a strong anti-migrant agenda that included promises of mass expulsions of migrants already here.

Since migrant delivery NGOs stepped up their activities in the Mediterranean, over the past few years Italy has been burdened with approximately half a million illegal immigrants whose crime rate has been found to be significantly higher than that of native Italians, according to a study by Italy's largest business association. He accused France of having caused the instability in Libya that has allowed smuggling networks to thrive by spearheading the 2011 NATO-led military campaign that led to the downfall of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Amid an escalation with France's president over the refusal to take in stranded migrants in the Mediterranean, Emmanuel Macron calling for "not giving in to emotion" and insists he's working with the government in Rome.

Beau said while the rescue ship the association operates, the Aquarius, is travelling the 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) to Spain, new victims "are dying under our eyes". The boat is being escorted by two Italian ships on a journey that will take four days.

- Winfield reported from Rome.

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