Italy has challenged France to take in migrants it promised to accept under an EU agreement, accusing Paris of turning back 10,000 people. The row flared up after France slammed Italy for turning away a ship with 629 migrants.
Earlier Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, said that Italian government did not have any intention to receive “hypocritical lessons” from someone who “in terms of immigration had always preferred to turn their head to the other side.”
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Conte, who is scheduled to travel to Paris on Friday, insisted that his visit was now out of the question unless he received a formal apology from President Macron. In the meantime, Italy’s Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador amid the heated dispute between Paris and Rome.
Conte’s stance was backed by the Interior Minister and leader of the League party, Matteo Salvini, who in his address to Parliament, slammed the French for trying to appear “exceptional” after having rejected 10,000 people at Italy’s border, “many of whom were women and children”.
According to the data presented by Salvini on a Tuesday night talk show, while Italy on average spends 35 euros on each asylum seeker, France only spends 25. The minister said that other EU countries’ spending on tackling immigration couldn’t compare to Italy’s annual 5 billion euro budget. The minister had also emphasized that out of 100 people arriving to Italy, only 7 of them are real refugees, escaping a war.
Following Italy’s firm “no” to the ship’s disembarkment in its ports, the vessel that was stranded in international waters was redirected to the island of Malta. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat slammed Rome for violating international law, as he himself refused to give the ship permission to dock in Malta.
On Monday Spain offered to welcome the rescue ship in its waters, but did not spare its criticism either, as the Spanish Minister of Justice, Dolores Delgado, warned Rome of the possible legal repercussions of its decision. Salvini hit back by staunchly defending the new government’s line on immigration, adding that he was ready to work peacefully with others, “while keeping one principle: Italians first.”
Italy’s tough stance was welcomed by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who approved of the line taken by Rome to protect its maritime borders “at last”.
Salvini’s initiative was also well-received in Berlin by his German counterpart, Horst Seehofer, who has been clashing with Chancellor Angela Merkel over her unwillingness to rethink her “open doors” policies.
Forced to receive over 700,000 migrants since 2013, Italy has been deeply affected by the migration influx. In dealing with the issue, the country has been feeling “left alone” by the European Union, since some EU countries preferred to resort to “egotistical closures” of their borders, as Prime Minister Conte defined it.
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