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Italy’s Meloni blasts France as migrants row continues

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Friday hit back at France as a diplomatic controversy over the management of migrants rescued by charity ships in the Mediterranean intensified.

"I was struck by the aggressive reaction of the French government, which from my point of view is incomprehensible and unjustified," Meloni said at a news conference, stressing that Italy cannot be the only country responsible for handling migrants trying to reach European shores.

"When there is talk of retaliation in European dynamics, something is not working," Meloni added, in a reference to France’s recent announcement that it will suspend plans to take in refugees, calling on other participants in the EU’s migrant-relocation scheme to adopt similar measures.

Paris on Friday allowed the rescue vessel Ocean Viking – operated by French charity SOS Mediterranee – to dock in the port of Toulon with 230 migrants on board after Rome shunned the ship's repeated requests to be assigned a place of safety. Some of the migrants had been rescued at sea three weeks ago, the charity group said.

The ship’s requests for a safe port sparked an open clash between France and Italy after Rome granted three other private vessels permission to disembark in Italian ports, following a day-long standoff with some of the NGOs involved in the rescues.

France finally agreed to offer a safe port to the ship on Thursday, but French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin noted the rescued migrants should be divided among France and other EU countries, in line with the solidarity mechanism approved in June.

Darmanin called the Italian government's decision not to accept the Ocean Viking an "unacceptable behavior.”

"The issue today is how the EU should deal with this problem,” Meloni hit back on Friday. "It could choose to isolate Italy. I think it would be better to isolate the traffickers.”

Responding to France’s harsh criticism over Italy’s migration policies, the Italian prime minister also stressed that Rome has already allowed almost 90,000 migrants to enter the country so far this year.

"What makes me angry? That Italy has to be the only (country to provide a) disembarkation port … This is not written in any agreement," she added.

After a sound electoral victory in September, the far-right Italian leader pledged a crackdown on illegal migration, which translated into a hardline approach toward NGOs ships that request a place to disembark hundreds of migrants rescued while in distress in the Mediterranean.

Under a decree pushed by the new Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, Italy now applies a “selective” approach in deciding who can disembark from the charity ships.

Those who do not qualify as “vulnerable” would have to leave Italian waters and should be taken care of by the "flag state," according to the new rules.

The "selective" approach raised worries in Italy and abroad from humanitarian organizations and international observers, who accused Rome of violating maritime laws and migrants’ rights to seek asylum after risking their lives at sea.

Source: Anadolu Agency