Italy summons French ambassador amid migrant row

The French ambassador has been summoned to the Italian Foreign Ministry to explain his government's criticism of Italy's handling of the Aquarius migrant boat affair.

Huge waves and strong winds forced a migrant ship caught in a major diplomatic row to take a detour Thursday on its way to Spain, with many aboard suffering seasickness and shock, a French charity said. Among the migrants are women and small children who are not expected to disembark before Saturday evening.

But Italy's foreign minister, Enzo Moavero, kept up the barrage by telling a French envoy that Macron's comments were "unjustifiable" and had compromised bilateral relations.

In a speech in the western French town of Mouchamps, he insisted that France was "working hand in hand with Italy" to handle migration.

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

During Italy's recent election, Salvini had seized on anti-immigration sentiment in the country and pledged to deport 500,000 migrants.

"If an official apology doesn't arrive, Prime Minister (Giuseppe) Conte would be right not to go to France", Salvini told reporters.

The leader of Austria and Germany's conservative interior minister say their countries will cooperate with Italy to tackle the problem of illegal migration.

Conte is "tending toward pushing back the trip to Paris", the source said.

The pair is set to meet Friday in Paris for talks including on migration.

The office of Finance Minister Giovanni Tria confirmed Wednesday's meeting with Bruno Le Maire had been scrapped.

"[Italy] is under command and they have to take that decision", he said.

Salvini has repeatedly vowed to stem the flow of migrants to Italy, which has seen more than 700,000 arrive on its shores since 2013.

The 629 migrants on board the Aquarius come from 26 different countries - 23 in Africa in addition to Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, according to MSF Spain.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini opposed taking in the refugees and said Malta should accept them.

Italy refused to accept the migrants on board despite being the first European Union country they arrived in which led to Paris calling the Italian decision "cynic", "despicable" and "nauseating" on Monday.

He said that between January and May, France had sent 10,249 migrants back to Italy.

France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

Italy has been accused of operating a "double standard" on the issue after an Italian Coast Guard boat carrying 937 rescued migrants was allowed to dock in Catania, Sicily on Wednesday. But Sea Watch, wary of embarking on an odyssey similar to what befell the Aquarius, said it couldn't unless the Rome-based rescue coordination center assigned it a safe port within navigation distance.

  • Jon Douglas