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June 13, 2018

EU tensions flare over migrants as Macron blasts Italy


June 13, 2018

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron blasted Italy for its “irresponsibility” on Tuesday after it turned away a rescue boat carrying African migrants, exposing deep tensions in the European Union over the issue.

The decision by Italy to stop the Aquarius rescue boat landing at the weekend with 629 migrants on board has created the first serious clash between the country’s new far-right/populist government and its EU partners.

During a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Macron accused Italy’s leaders of “cynicism and irresponsibility” and said they had broken international maritime law by refusing the boat the right to dock. “In cases of distress, those with the closest coastline have a responsibility to respond,” spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in unusually harsh criticism by Paris of its southern neighbour.

For years, Italy has pleaded with its EU partners for help with a massive influx of arrivals from Africa that has seen 700,000 people cross the Mediterranean and land in the country since 2013.

Under existing rules, countries where migrants first arrive are required to process their asylum requests, placing the burden on Italy in particular, as well as fellow southern countries Greece and Spain.

EU leaders in December set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of these so-called “Dublin rules”, but they have been in deadlock for two years and there is little sign of a breakthrough.Attempts to distribute refugees around the bloc’s 28 members have consistently failed, with the surge in immigration fuelling anti-immigration, far-right political parties across Europe.

An Italian suggestion last year that rescue boats should be able to land migrants in other ports along the Mediterranean, such as those in France, was also rejected by its EU partners.The new government in Rome, which includes the far-right League party, came to power pledging to stop the arrivals and carry out mass deportations that could see hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants expelled.

Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the League leader, said last week that he would not allow Italy to become “Europe’s refugee camp”. He has also taken aim at Mediterranean island Malta for failing to allow in rescue boats and has criticised French reinforcements at its border with Italy which result in many migrants being turned back.

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