French President Emmanuel Macron says that Italy "playing politics" with a boat full of shipwrecked Libyan refugees denied entry to Italy, and the Italian government has displayed "cynicism and irresponsibility" for closing its ports.
Mr Macron's spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the French president recalled that "in cases of distress, those with the nearest coastline have a responsibility to respond".
"There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government's behaviour," he quoted President Macron as saying.
Most migrants who survive the perilous voyages from North Africa end up in overcrowded Italian camps, and Italy says its EU partners must ease the burden. -BBC
The French scolding comes after Italy's new Interior Minister of less than two weeks, Matteo Salvini, made good on his warning last weekend that "the good times for illegals are over" after years of unchecked migration primarily from North Africa.
In response to Macron's comments, Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte hit back - accusing Paris of being hypocritical, cynical and rigid.
"The statements around the Aquarius affair that come from France are surprising and show a serious lack of knowledge about what is really happening. Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration," Conte's office said.
After Malta refused to accept the 629 shipwrecked migrants over the weekend, Spain agreed to take in the refugees - a group which includes 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children (though we're guessing nobody is checking birth certificates) and seven pregnant women.
As we reported earlier Tuesday, the refugees will be escorted to Valencia, Spain after SOS Mediterranee said that they had run out of food and would not be able to make it on their own.
🔴 UPDATE 09h39: #Aquarius received confirmation: Port of Safety is #Valencia, #Spain. Teams relieved that solution starts to be found. However, results are unnecessary prolongation of time at sea for already vulnerable people & reduction of SAR capacity. Supplies now on board. pic.twitter.com/XnqDcS1JnQ— SOS MEDITERRANEE GER (@SOSMedGermany) June 12, 2018
#BREAKING First transfer of people from #Aquarius to Italian coast guard vessel. 90 people were taken just now. More than 400 left to be transferred - according to initial plan. pic.twitter.com/MyixHQdBHm— Anelise Borges (@AnneliseBorges) June 12, 2018
Non-governmental organization (NGO) ship MV Aquarius, run by the group SOS Mediterranee, picked up 629 shipwrecked sub-Saharan Africans who were stranded in inflatable boats last weekend with the intention of bringing them to Sicily. The group includes 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.
The minors are aged between 13 and 17 and come from Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan, according to Anelise Borges - a journalist on the ship.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that France is ready to help Spain receive the migrants - though apparently sending a naval vessel to provide the transport currently being footed by Italian taxpayers isn't something France is doing.
French Prime Minister @EPhilippePM says France is ready to help Spain receive the 629 people rescued in the Mediterranean this weekend. Meanwhile aboard the #Aquarius, the transfers continue and people say they are happy that Europe is finally going to welcome them to its shores https://t.co/ozb6oTfcpi— Anelise Borges (@AnneliseBorges) June 12, 2018
This isn't the first time Italy and France have traded barbs over how to handle Sub-Saharan migrants. Nearly one year ago, Italy slammed France for excluding them from negotiations with Libyan leaders on a political power-sharing deal to reunite the fractured North African country.
“There are too many open formats in Libya, too many mediators, too many initiatives,” Italy’s foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
As VoA noted last year, Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations, in which Macron has been also accused of duplicity and hypocrisy in his diplomatic conduct with Italy. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “we have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger.