Boat carrying over 900 migrants docks in Italy


Italy has received both criticism and praise for turning away the Aquarius rescue ship over the weekend as it made its way across the Mediterranean Sea carrying 629 migrants.

Italy summoned the French ambassador for consultations Wednesday after France accused the new populist Italian government of cynical, irresponsible behaviour by refusing entry to a migrant ship, evidence that the standoff is having continent-wide repercussions.

But Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini - leader of Lega, the anti-migrant party which formed a coalition with Conte's Five Star Movement - said he wanted an apology from the French President.

Spain offered to welcome migrants aboard the Aquarius rescue ship after Italy and Malta refused to take them in.

Macron told ministers in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday the Italian government had acted cynically and irresponsibly in its refusal to welcome the Aquarius, according to French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.

While acknowledging that the controversial European Union quota system - which would have seen illegal immigrants arriving to the bloc forced on unwilling nations - was "a failure", the UN figure insisted: "Unless Europe goes back to this notion of sharing the burden, we will not get out of this situation".

Italy and Malta did not allow the Aquarius vessel to dock.

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The French government was more conciliatory Wednesday, when the Foreign Ministry said France recognized the burden Italy has carried.

Italy's rejection of a migrant ship is shameful but the responsibility lies with Europe as a whole, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Wednesday. The Spanish authorities then said they were ready to let the Aquarius dock in its eastern port.

Speaking to the Senate Wednesday, Salvini accused France of only receiving 640 of the 9,816 migrants it had promised to take from Italy.

"We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration".

"We need to listen" to Italy, Grandi said, stating that the nation's populist government was "right to say" the nation can not welcome every boat of third world migrants wishing to make Europe their home.

On Wednesday morning, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants aboard docked in Catania, Sicily, as the Aquarius headed into increasingly rough seas on its way to Valencia, where it is due to arrive on Saturday. In practice, the policy has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in recent years. The boat is being escorted by two Italian ships on a journey that will take four days.

The U.N. refugee agency has said that approximately 1,900 migrants came to Cyprus in about 40 boat trips since 2015.