Ship carrying 900 migrants docks in Sicily as Italy fights back over row over turning away aid ship with 600 on board

15:35 • 14.06.18



Italy has rescued more than 900 migrants amid a diplomatic row with France after it earlier turned away an aid ship with 600 aboard.


The migrants arrived in Catania, Sicily, aboard the coast guard vessel Diciotti on Monday, including the bodies of a woman and a teenage boy who died, the Daily Mail reports.


Thirteen of the 937 passengers from Eritrea, Sudan, Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea are pregnant and 208 are reported to be minors.


During the voyage to Sicily, four pregnant women and a man suffering from fever were evacuated urgently and taken to hospitals.


Bringing the stricken migrants in is the latest development in a war of words with France since Italy turned away the aid ship Aquarius carrying 629 migrants.


“French leader Emmanuel Macron's said the decision by Italy's new hard-line government was “cynical and irresponsible”.


Italy responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with France and demanding the country open its borders to 9,000 asylum seekers.


Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini demanded an apology for President Macron's words and criticised its own migration actions.  


'We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone,' he said.


“Our history of solidarity, humanity and welcoming spirit does not deserve to be criticised by members of the French government.”


He said France promised to accept 9,816 migrants under a 2015 EU redistribution scheme to help frontline Mediterranean countries like Italy.


Mr Salvini said as France had only accepted 640 people in three years it should accept 9,000 from Italy 'tomorrow morning…as a sign of concrete generosity and not just words”.


He pointed out France has refused entry to 10,249 migrants, including women, children and disabled people, trying to enter from Italy between January and May this year.


Mr Salvini, leader of the nationalist League and an ally of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was speaking to senators shortly after the Italian foreign ministry summoned the French ambassador to Rome, Christian Masset, to discuss the row. 


Macron's office said on Tuesday that France didn't want to 'start a precedent' that would allow some European countries to breach international laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants. 


“Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons about migration from countries that have always preferred to look away,” Premier Giuseppe Conte's office said.


The migrants aboard the Aquarius, run by French charity SOS Mediterranee, were stuck on the overloaded ship for over 30 hours as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them.


Spain then stepped in and offered the port of Valencia as a place for the migrants to land in Europe.


The local government in Valencia said the Red Cross is preparing to provide shelter and medical assistance upon arrival, with other Spanish regions and cities offering to provide longer term support.


Charity workers said sending the boat on the four-day journey to Spain meant other migrants from the north African coast were 'dying under our eyes'.


France was not completely alone in its criticism as UN refugee agency's chief, Italian national Filippo Grandi, said it was 'shameful' that two European countries refused to take in vulnerable migrants.


How Europe should share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to get into the bloc from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East, remains a vexed question.


Many states have fallen short of their pledge, made in 2015, to take some asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and share the cost of their care.


Mr Salvini's League scored its best-ever result in March national elections, partly on pledges to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants.


It also promised to halt the flow of newcomers, and formed a coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to form government.


France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday. 


Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said it was 'fully aware of the burden that the migration pressure is placing on Italy' and that it was committed to cooperating with Rome on immigration.


Economy Minister Tria spoke with his French counterpart after cancelling his meeting, a French finance ministry official said, and both agreed to reschedule their meeting in coming days.


But Italy's foreign minister, Enzo Moavero, kept up the barrage by telling a French envoy that Macron's comments were 'unjustifiable' and compromised bilateral relations.

 

The migrants arrived in Catania, Sicily, aboard the coast guard vessel Diciotti on Monday

Migrants wait to disembark from Italian Coast Guard vessell "Diciotti" as it docks at the Sicilian port of Catania

Red Cross tents set up at the port of Catania as the 937 migrants prepare to disembark

Workers wearing hazmat suits assess the health of the hundreds of migrants coming ashore

 During the voyage to Sicily, four pregnant women and a man suffering from fever were evacuated urgently and taken to hospitals

 





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