Italy and France yesterday tried to patch up a row over immigration as Pope Francis urged politicians everywhere to work together on helping refugees and respect their dignity.
Italy on Wednesday summoned France’s envoy and demanded an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron, who had said that Rome’s move to block a migrant rescue ship from its ports was an act of “cynicism and irresponsibility.”
Macron, in a telephone call on Wednesday with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, said he did not mean to offend “Italy and the Italian people,” a statement said.
The leaders confirmed a lunch meeting today to discuss “new initiatives” on immigration, a day after Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini announced an “axis” with Germany and Austria to fight illegal migration.
“France does not want escalation; it’s counterproductive. We need to maintain dialogue,” a source close to Macron said, but added that Macron was not “taking back anything.”
Salvini has vowed to continue to block foreign humanitarian boats from Italian ports as Europe wrestles with how to share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to enter the EU from war zones and poor nations.
More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, and Italy is sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants. An EU summit is to discuss the bloc’s asylum rules at the end of the month.
Pope Francis, who has made the defense of refugees a plank of his papacy, rebuked politicians for not respecting the dignity of migrants and demanded “a change in mindset.”
Speaking at a conference at the Vatican, the pope said that nations must work together and “move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society.”
The row centered on the charity ship Aquarius, which Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports. It was carrying 629 migrants and is heading to Spain, which has offered safe harbor, escorted by two Italian ships.
Among the migrants are women and small children who are not expected to disembark before tomorrow evening. They were rescued off the coast of Libya on Saturday last week.
Despite criticism from the pope and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Salvini has not changed his position.
“Ships belonging to foreign organizations and flying foreign flags cannot dictate Italy’s immigration policy,” Salvini said on Wednesday.
A US Navy ship that recovered 41 survivors and 12 bodies after a shipwreck on Tuesday was still waiting for Italy to decide what to do with them.
A Dutch-flagged humanitarian ship, the Sea Watch 3, had offered to take them on board, but not without a written guarantee that it would be allowed to dock in an Italian port.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday struggled to find a compromise on migrant policy with her Bavarian allies.
The showdown with German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer and his Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) is over his “Masterplan for Migration,” a blueprint in which he wants to show voters a tough line before a difficult Bavarian election in October.
There was no immediate deal in sight after a “crisis meeting” yesterday evening and in an extraordinary move, the CSU and Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) held separate gatherings.
Sources said many CDU lawmakers had agreed to back a compromise proposal made by Merkel, but it was unclear if this move pointed to a heightening of the crisis or the nearing of an agreement.
Merkel objects to the part of the plan that allows authorities to reject migrants who reach Germany after having previously registered in other EU states to the south.
She says that doing this could result in other nations doing the same and that a European-wide solution is the best approach.
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