Italian PM Confirms Meeting With Macron Amid Spike in Tensions Over Migrants

Frederick Owens
June 14, 2018

Italy postponed high-level talks with France Wednesday after Paris blasted Rome for its "nauseating" refusal to take in a migrant rescue ship, in a major diplomatic spat. Rome says the rescue vessel's passengers never were in danger and argues that other European countries must share the work of welcoming would-be asylum-seekers.

According to the latest figures, around 7000 migrants are stranded in Serbia. Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbor after Italy and Malta both refused.

The standoff over the Aquarius appeared a clear tactic by Italy's new government to force Europe's hand at the upcoming summit of European Union leaders in Brussels June 28-29. The Spanish authorities then said they were ready to let the Aquarius dock in its eastern port. The French president's office said France didn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach global laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

But he stressed that "the reason why Italy said it had closed ports is something we need to listen to".

France claims it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, believing the planned meeting between Macron and Conte would go ahead.

On Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with more than 900 migrants aboard in a sign that Italy under the populist 5-Star Movement and anti-migrant League is still accepting some migrants, but is forcing other countries to share the burden.

He has accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

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"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Elysee said in a statement Thursday that Macron and Conte spoke by phone on Wednesday amid an escalating clash between the two countries over migration. But the French economy ministry later said the ministers had "agreed that Mr Tria will come to Paris in the coming days".

"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.

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

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.

A boat loaded with 55 people who were thought to be Syrian refugees landed Wednesday on the northwest coast of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island split into ethnically Greek and Turkish sides.

More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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