Italy anger after France slams Rome for leaving migrants stranded at sea

Italy anger after France slams Rome for leaving migrants stranded at sea
Tensions between France and Italy have flared after Paris criticised Rome's decision to refuse entry to the migrants stranded at sea.
2 min read
13 June, 2018
More than 600 rescued migrants are on board the Aquarius [Getty]
A scheduled meeting between Italy's finance minister and his French counterpart was cancelled as the two countries continue to clash over Italy's decision to refuse entry to a migrant rescue ship.

The office of Finance Minister Giovanni Tria confirmed Wednesday's meeting with Bruno Le Maire had been scrapped. Le Maire's office confirmed the cancellation. No reason was given by either office.

Italy's foreign ministry warned earlier that relations had been compromised by France's public criticism that Italy's decision to refuse entry to the migrant rescue ship Aquarius had been "cynical" and irresponsible.

Italy summoned the French ambassador to protest and demanded an official apology.

The fate of 629 migrants stranded at sea for days has sparked bitter recriminations after their rescue ship was turned away from ports in Italy and Malta. Italy has defended its decision to refuse the Aquarius and its passengers entry, and the migrants remained stranded until Spain offered to take it in.

On Monday, the UN called on Italy and Malta to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

The Aquarius included 11 children and seven pregnant women on board, rescued from six different missions, and was stranded 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

An envoy of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says "people are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

The European Union and its biggest member state, Germany, make similar pleas and called for a "swift resolution".

The UN refugee agency chief described the bitter dispute between the European countries as "profoundly shameful" for the European Union.

The focal point for Mediterranean migration in recent years has been Italy, where more than 700,000 migrants have arrived since 2013.

More than 20,000 migrants have disappeared or died trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2014. Increasingly tight security along Europe's eastern borders has forced migrants to choose the more perilous sea journeys.

Libya has become a key transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe.