Italy economy minister cancels France meeting over migrant tensions

Saturday, 16 Jun, 2018

Operated by the charity SOS Mediterranee, the Aquarius carried 629 migrants and refugees on board.

Amid rough seas, the Italian coastguard redirected the Aquarius rescue ship on Thursday along the east coast of Sardinia.

How did we get here?

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"Most people are inside lying on floor including pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, babies, burns patients, people who nearly drowned", Doctors Without Borders (MSF) coordinator Aloys Vimard, who is on board the boat, said on Twitter.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blasted the French critique of its handling of the Aquarius migrant ship standoff during a speech to Parliament on Wednesday. Each migrant paid $2,000-3,000 for a place on the vessel. Italy for years has complained that it has been left largely alone to manage Europe's migrant crisis, but the new government says its tactics have finally gotten the point across. The USis awaiting word as to whether it could transport the survivors to Italy.

In a statement Thursday, a Mediterranean rescue worker said numerous migrants on board the charity ship Aquarius became sea sick and were frightened as the ship battled large waves and strong winds.

A statement from the foreign ministry said the ambassador had been summoned Wednesday morning "following the statements given in Paris yesterday about the Aquarius".

"This is a damning indictment of the European Union's policy on immigration".

France had "always defended the need for greater European solidarity with the Italian people", he said.

Survivors from this critical rescue over the weekend are now onboard #Aquarius.

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Spain offered to take in the Aquarius after Italy and Malta refused to do so.

"I fear a major tragedy if states start refusing to accept rescued migrants", director general William Lacy Swing said.

French President Emmanuel Macron slammed the move Tuesday, saying Rome had acted cynically and irresponsibly.

On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hailed cooperation between the hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy on the question of migrants. However, the source added that Macron was not "taking back anything".

Why did Italy refuse to help?

While his rhetoric has softened slightly since he took office, he declared that Italy "cannot be Europe's refugee camp" during a recent visit to Sicily.

Ten other defendants, mostly Bulgarians, were given prison terms ranging between three and 12 years.

But on Thursday, huge waves and strong winds forced the convoy, carrying 629 rescued migrants, to take a detour along the coast of the Italian island of Sardinia. So far, in 2018, that figure has grown drastically from the same period previous year. It will be interesting to see how many more migrants Spain is prepared to accept from Libya.

In the aftermath of a separate rescue in waters off Libya, the U.S. Navy said it was still awaiting a decision on where it could disembark 40 African migrants it rescued at sea after a smugglers' boat capsized on Tuesday.