A migrant ship's fate symbolizes a divided Europe
- Norman Tucker
Italy postponed high-level talks with France Wednesday after Paris blasted Rome for its "nauseating" refusal to take in a migrant rescue ship, in a major diplomatic spat.
Diverting the rescue ship to Spain - some four days' away, with poor weather forecast - keeps the Aquarius away from the area where its search-and-rescue capacity is most needed, in worldwide waters off the Libyan coast, putting other lives at risk.
Italy demanded an apology after the French president accused the new Italian government of irresponsible behavior for refusing entry to a rescue ship with 629 migrants aboard.
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.
The migrant rescue ship that was rejected by the Italian government has been rerouted on its way to Spain because of bad weather.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the anti-immigrant League, has spearheaded a hardline stand on curbing arrivals from across the Mediterranean as a priority for the new populist coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. But this can not excuse its refusal to allow the Aquarius to dock either. The port is some 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from where the ship had been on standby since Saturday night.
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". He declared his support for Kurz's proposal for a three-way "axis of the willing" with Italy to fight illegal migration.
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A Dutch-flagged humanitarian ship, the Sea Watch 3, was called by a U.S. Navy vessel to take on board 41 survivors and 12 bodies recovered after a shipwreck on Tuesday. "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration", the government said in a statement on Tuesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron attends the "prise d'armes" military ceremony at the Invalides in Paris, France, June 11, 2018.
Macron called Conte on Thursday, a source in the prime minister's office said, without elaborating.
Earlier in the day, the Italian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the French ambassador to complain that the French comments about the Aquarius were "unacceptable".
"For me, the question of how we deal with the migration question is something of a litmus test for the future and the unity of Europe, and the interests of every country must be considered", she said.
It added that Italy was waiting for French to take action to "heal the situation that has been created". In practice, this has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of people have entered in recent years.
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