Italy, France try to patch up migrant row; draw papal rebuke

UN:

Italy dispatched two ships Tuesday to help take 629 migrants stuck off its shores on the days-long voyage to Spain in what is forecast to be bad weather, after the new populist government refused them safe port in a dramatic bid to force Europe to share the burden of unrelenting arrivals.

An Italian coastguard ship carrying more than 900 migrants was allowed to dock in Sicily Wednesday, after Italy controversially turned away a separate foreign vessel with rescued migrants on board.

The French leader's comments sparked a heated diplomatic row between the two countries, with Italy's newly elected Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatening to call off a meeting with Mr Macron due on Friday.

Spain stepped in and said the migrants could land at the port of Valencia.

Amid an escalation with France's president over the refusal to take in stranded migrants in the Mediterranean, Emmanuel Macron calling for "not giving in to emotion" and insists he's working with the government in Rome.

France and Italy traded insults, rifts widened in Germany's ruling coalition and Austria called for an "axis of the willing" to take action as a simmering row over how Europe should handle irregular migration finally boiled over.

France's leader had said Rome acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by rejecting the ship.

This comes as the Italian government has urged its European counterparts to take in more asylum seekers.

SOS Mediterranee, the aid group that operates the Aquarius, said Thursday the Italian coast guard boat leading the convoy made a decision to skirt Sardinia's east coast after high waves caused exhausted migrants aboard to be seasick.

France's European Affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau on Thursday defended France's record on taking in migrants following criticism of Macron's initial silence on the plight of the Aquarius.

Macron suggested Rome was trying to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to accept the ship instead of tackling the underlying problems of development and security in migrants' home countries and smuggling rings.

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.

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

"With my German and Austrian colleagues. we will propose a new (immigration) initiative", Salvini said, adding that it would apply both to the EU's external borders and to how the bloc's countries manage migrants internally.

Matteo Salvini has repeatedly accused fellow European Union members of abandoning Italy as it struggles to cope with an influx of migrants.

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