Tensions flare as Macron criticises Italy for turning away migrant ship

Malta supplies

Italy’s rejection of migrant ship ‘shameful’ – UN envoy

"It is shameful. As a European, I felt shame - shame - that there was a boat - there is a boat - in the Mediterranean, and for several days nobody wanted to take these people", he said Wednesday, as the migrant-packed vessel rejected by Italy was on its way to Spain.

"One should never give in to the emotion, which is manipulated by some people", Macron told reporters, according to BFMTV broadcaster.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was to brief Parliament later Wednesday on the situation as the Aquarius and its 629 passengers continued its dayslong, westward voyage to Spain.

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

SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), co-operating the Aquarius, are both well-known French charities.

"Closing ports, whoever does it, threatens rescue at sea, as we have seen in the case of the Aquarius, and therefore is not the right solution", UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters in Geneva.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of revision amid a major political dispute - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

"Europe must stick together", she said, acknowledging Italy's concern that it had taken in many migrants but fellow European Union countries were not showing sufficient solidarity.

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Salvini's League scored its best-ever result in March national elections, partly on pledges to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and halt the flow of newcomers, and has formed a coalition with the anti-system 5-Star Movement.

More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants. The border crossing point at Ventimiglia has been the scene of protests and desperation for years as France has refused to let in migrants, many of whom are seeking to reach family in France or Germany.

"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

Italy responded to French criticism by summoning its ambassador. At the moment the conditions (for the meeting) don't exist.

"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.

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

Refugees have continued to arrive as politicians trade blame.

Meanwhile, an Italian coast guard ship with more than 900 migrants on board has docked this morning in the Sicilian port of Catania. German aid group Sea-Watch said the migrants were picked up after their rubber dinghy sank and the Navy also had recovered the bodies of 12 people.

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