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Friday 22 June 2018

Migrant ship row escalates as Italy stands firm

Matteo Salvini in the senate in Rome yesterday. Photo: Getty
Matteo Salvini in the senate in Rome yesterday. Photo: Getty

Philip Pullella

Italy has said its decision to shut its ports to hundreds of migrants aboard a charity ship is firm, as a clash between Rome and Paris over migrant policy heated up.

"We will not change [our position] on ships belonging to non-governmental organisations," Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said.

"Ships belonging to foreign organisations and flying foreign flags cannot dictate Italy's immigration policy," said Salvini, who is also head of the anti-immigrant League.

Since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta refused to let the ship dock, some 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius.

Some of the migrants, who are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were moved onto to two Italian ships from the navy and coastguard and are heading for the Spanish port of Valencia.

The episode, coming a week after the installation of Italy's new populist government, has heightened tensions within the European Union over migration, with relations between Rome and Paris deteriorating in an explosion of accusations and counter-accusations.

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, operated by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranne, saying international law obliged Italy to take in the migrants.

The situation escalated yesterday when Rome's foreign ministry summoned the French ambassador for an explanation of Mr Macron's comments.

Irish Independent

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