Italy summons French envoy as migrant dispute escalates
ROME – 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.
A day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with “cynicism and irresponsibility” by closing its ports to a migrant ship, Italy’s economy minister canceled a Paris meeting with his counterpart, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte weighed postponing a meeting with Macron scheduled for Friday.
“We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone,” far-right Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told the Senate.
Salvini, who is also the leader of the anti-immigrant League party, called on France to apologize and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.
France said it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, and that it believed the planned meeting between Macron and Conte would go ahead.
Macron initially did not respond to questions on the issue, but later told reporters: “We must never give in to emotions, which some people manipulate.”
Macron suggested Rome was trying to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to accept the ship instead of tackling the underlying problems of development and security in migrants’ home countries and smuggling rings.
The row centers on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports. It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, which offered safe harbor, escorted by two Italian ships.
SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres, or MSF, cooperating on the Aquarius, are both French charities.
France was not alone in its criticism.
The UN refugee agency’s chief, Italian national Filippo Grandi, said it was “shameful” that two European countries refused to take in vulnerable migrants.
How Europe should share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to get into the bloc from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East, remains a vexed question.
Many states have fallen short of their pledge, made in 2015, to take some asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece – the first port of call for most migrants given their long Mediterranean coastlines – and share the cost of their care.
More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum-seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.
Europe needs a unified approach to migration that addresses the interests of each country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday, noting that Italy did not feel it was receiving sufficient support from other European Union member states.
She has drawn criticism from her own conservative party for her open-door migrant policy, adopted in 2015, which also provoked a rise in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
(China Daily 06/15/2018 page12)
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