Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

Italy threatens to drop France summit over migration criticism

Italy threatens to drop France summit over migration criticism

The ship has 629 migrants including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and six pregnant women.

The migrants, stuck at sea since Saturday after Italy and Malta refused them permission to dock in their ports, are now heading for Spain, where the prime minister has offered them safe harbour.

Earlier, Aquarius crew member Alessandro Porro told news channel Sky TG24, that the ship was north of Malta and had "received no communications from the Maltese authorities".

The defiant comments from Sophie Beau, head of the charity SOS Mediterranee, suggest the row over the stranded ship could repeat itself - not least as migrant attempts to cross the Mediterranean increase in the warm summer months.

"This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure 4 more days travel at sea", it said on Twitter.

The episode, coming a week after the installation of Italy's new populist government, has heightened tensions within the European Union over migration.

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Italy on Tuesday threatened to cancel a summit with France after Paris strongly criticized an Italian decision to close its ports to a vessel carrying more than 600 migrants, according to Italian media.

However the one-off fix was not adequate, the charity said, calling on European leaders to step up and find shared solutions to support countries on the frontline, such as Italy.

However, charities questioned why the coast guard boat was being allowed to dock in Italy, while migrants on the Aquarius, who had been at sea for longer, were not. "629 immigrants aboard the ship Aquarius headed for Spain, primary goal achieved!"

Corsican leaders Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni, the top politicians on the French Mediterranean island, tweeted an offer on Tuesday morning as uncertainty grew over the fate of the people on board.

The passengers, with many migrants from Sudan among them, were apparently unaware of they had become pawns of sorts in Europe's new political equilibrium.

Other EU states have largely ignored pleas by Rome to take in some of the newcomers and share the cost of their care, heightening anti-European and anti-migrant sentiment in Italy.

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Malta resisted, and its prime minister, Joseph Muscat, accused Italy of breaking "international rules" and blamed it for causing a "standoff".

Migrants stand shoulder to shoulder aboard SOS Mediterranee's Aquarius ship in the Mediterranean Sea in an image released on Monday.

"There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government's behavior with regard to this dramatic humanitarian situation", government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux quoted Macron as telling his cabinet. Although the influx has been subsiding, the country continues struggling to cope with the arrivals.

With the weather worsening and concerns growing for the welfare of the most vulnerable migrants aboard the Aquarius, the Spanish Government has offered to receive the ship, although it will another three to four days sailing to reach port.

Porro said: "At the moment we are like an ambulance that has been stopped and we don't know where to go".

Meanwhile in Rome, hundreds of people gathered at a demonstration in protest of their government's decision to stop the Aquarius from docking.

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