"Shameful" handling of migrant ship shows need for European Union asylum reform

"Shameful" handling of migrant ship shows need for European Union asylum reform

In his speech, Salvini shot back and said France had turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy's northern border since January "including women, children and disabled people".

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the block on the Aquarius, insisting that Italy should have taken the migrants in.

Macron's comments sparked a fierce response from Rome, which called them "unacceptable" and summoned France's ambassador Wednesday.

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

A French presidential source said the country had not received any formal demand from Italy for an apology.

The issue of how to share the migrant burden is expected to dominate an European Union summit at the end of June.

Macron and new Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte were scheduled to meet in Paris on Friday, but Italian news agency ANSA said Wednesday the meeting might be postponed because the conditions weren't right.

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.

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France's leader had said Rome acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by rejecting the ship. It coincided with growing tensions in Europe over Italy's refusal to let a migrant rescue ship dock, forcing other European countries to take them in. The Aquarius, with some 600 people saved from the sea over the last few weeks, is sailing to Spain after the country agreed to welcome the ship.

France's European Affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau on Thursday defended France's record on taking in migrants following criticism of Macron's initial silence on the plight of the Aquarius.

More than 1.8 million people have entered Europe irregularly since 2014 and Italy is now sheltering some 170,000 asylum seekers.

France is "perfectly aware" of the pressure on Italy as it copes with an influx of migrants from Africa, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

Salvini has accused charities that rescue migrants of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

A Dutch-flagged humanitarian ship, the Sea Watch 3, had offered to take them on board, but not without a written guarantee from the coastguard that it will be allowed to dock in an Italian port, which it did not receive.

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

Earlier, Italy, which is pursuing a hardline policy on immigration, closed its ports to the refugees on Aquarius, saying that Malta was the closest and safest port to accommodate the vessel.

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