Italy, France tensions spiral over rejected migrant ship

Salvini has accused charities that rescue migrants of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself. Italy coordinated Aquarius sea rescues, and the Italian Coast Guard directly saved almost 300 people and then transferred them to the NGO ship; Italy had the duty to promptly designate a safe place to disembark.

United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi urged the European Union on Wednesday to sort out its "shameful" refugee policy after both Italy and Malta turned away a ship carrying hundreds of migrants. 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.

Italy escalated its standoff with France over migration Wednesday, challenging Paris to take in more asylum-seekers and demanding an apology after the French president accused the new populist Italian government of cynical, irresponsible behaviour by refusing entry to a rescue ship with 600 people aboard.

Italy's new populist government came under fire Tuesday from its European Union neighbours after refusing to let a foreign NGO boat carrying 629 mostly African migrants dock in Italy.

The Aquarius will now dock in Valencia, which is 800 miles from where the ship had been stranded.

Italy's new coalition government has taken a hardline stance on migration, as the European Union seeks to negotiate the so-called refugee quotas and the Dublin rule, which requires that would-be refugees file for asylum in the first EU member-state they arrive in.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed they will meet in Paris on Friday, after the Italian premier threatened to cancel the meeting amid a tense diplomatic row over migration.

Matteo Salvini accused France of turning back 10,000 migrants on its border with Italy.

France tried to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

"I think it marks very sensible cooperation that will contribute to reducing illegal migration to Europe", said Kurz, whose country assumes the EU's rotating presidency on July 1. In practice, this has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people have entered in recent years.

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.

The vessel Diciotti had picked up migrants off the coast of Libya and was allowed at Sicily because it was an Italian ship on a government mission.

After a nerve-wracking stand-off and intense negotiations, 629 people rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Aquarius, a rescue ship run by two nongovernmental groups, SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF, are finally heading towards Spain.

  • Rogelio Becker