Tensions flare as Macron criticises Italy for turning away migrant ship

Tensions flare as Macron criticises Italy for turning away migrant ship

This after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to migrants.

As well as summoning France's ambassador on Wednesday, Italy's finance minister Giovanni Tria cancelled a meeting with his counterpart in Paris and its interior minister said Italy had "nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone".

But Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini - leader of Lega, the anti-migrant party which formed a coalition with Conte's Five Star Movement - said he wanted an apology from the French President.

"France says that we are cynical but between January 1 and May 31 it turned back 10,249 people at the border, including women and disabled children", Salvini said.

Salvini said France had taken in only a fraction of the 9,816 migrants it had pledged to welcome under a 2015 European Union relocation plan to relieve frontline countries Italy and Greece of the burden of caring for newly arrived migrants.

The ship had been drifting in the central Mediterranean since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta closed their ports to it. It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, which offered safe harbour, escorted by two Italian ships.

The U.N. refugee agency's chief, Italian national Filippo Grandi, told Reuters it was "shameful" that two European countries refused to take in vulnerable migrants.

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The French government was more conciliatory Wednesday, when the Foreign Ministry said France recognized the burden Italy has carried.

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.

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

Macron called Conte on Thursday, a source in the prime minister's office said, without elaborating. The minister said that France has taken only 340 of the 9,816 migrants who were meant to be relocated there in three years.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of a major political dispute and under revision - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

Refugees have continued to arrive as politicians trade blame.

An Italian coast guard vessel has docked in Sicily with more than 900 migrants aboard, evidence that Italy's new anti-migrant government is still taking in some asylum-seekers but is forcing the rest of Europe to accept others. German aid group Sea-Watch said the migrants were picked up after their rubber dinghy sank and the Navy also had recovered the bodies of 12 people. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports.

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