French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday denounced Italy’s “cynicism” and “irresponsibility” for denying entry to a ship carrying hundreds of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean this weekend.
The ship called Aquarius rescued around 230 migrants on Saturday, and more than 400 were transferred to the ship by Italian military and merchant ships in the area. They were originally set to dock in Italy, but Italy’s newly formed government turned the ship away.
Following Italy’s decision, Malta said it would not accept the ship either so it remained in standby between the two countries for days.
Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s new prime minister, on Monday offered to provide safe harbor.
“There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government’s behavior with regards to this dramatic humanitarian situation,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux quoted Macron as saying after a Cabinet meeting.
He added that the French leader had made clear that the country with the nearest coastline to a stranded ship bears responsibility under maritime law.
“You can’t create a precedent that will enable one European country to offload onto other European countries,” Griveaux said. “We need to show solidarity, which Italy has not shown.”
Trip to Spain ‘too long’
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also called on Rome to change its mind due to the distance the boat has to travel to arrive in Spain.
“The NGOs have said the time to get to Valencia would be too long given the humanitarian situation on board,” Le Drian told lawmakers on Tuesday.
“The boat is at 25 [nautical] miles from the Sicilian coast and 27 [nautical] miles from Malta, we are solemnly asking Italian authorities to reconsider their position.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe defended his country’s stance, saying Paris was ready to help Spain, but Rome should rethink its position.
He said that the new Italian government had “chosen to not respect its international obligations in terms of security for the people.”
“This episode shows that there is no hope in the short-term for a national solution to this problem,” he told lawmakers.
“There can only be a European response.”
Authorities on the French island of Corsica had also offered to host the rescue ship.
“Given the location of the ship and the urgency, my opinion is that it would be natural to open a Corsican port to help those people in distress,” Jean-Guy Talamoni, president of the Corsican Assembly, tweeted on Monday evening.
This call was backed Tuesday morning by the head of Corsica’s Executive Council, Gilles Simeoni.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, so far in 2018, 35,090 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, with more than 11,300 landing in Spain and 14,200 in Italy.
The UNHCR estimates that 784 have died or gone missing, and its data shows that 21.9 percent of total arrivals are Syrian.