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Migrant issue: Macron never meant to offend Italy!

PARIS:  French President Emmanuel Macron did not mean to offend Italy with comments about the migrant crisis that have sparked a bitter diplomatic row, his office said today.

In a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday evening, “the president stressed that none of his comments were intended to offend Italy and the Italian people,” Macron’s office said in a statement.

A lunch meeting between the two leaders in Paris on Friday, which Rome had threatened to cancel after Macron accused Italy of “cynicism and irresponsibility” in its response to the stranded Aquarius migrant ship, will go ahead as planned.

Relevant pieces published earlier:

i) Italy’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the French Ambassador today, amid a diplomatic spat between the two countries over the handling of a migrant crisis.

 On Tuesday French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy of “irresponsibility” after the Rome government refused to open its ports to an NGO ship carrying hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean. (Published on 13th June 2018)

ii) Amid Italy-Malta standoff, Spain has offered to receive the aid group SOS Mediterranee’s vessel Aquarius carrying 629 migrants onboard (among them 100 children pregnant women and many suffering from hypothermia).  While Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating international norms governing sea rescues, Italy held that Malta should accept the Aquarius because Malta was the safest, closest port to the ship. Spain’s new Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, ordered authorities in Valencia to open the port, saying “it’s our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people.” It is not clear whether Aquarius could travel safely to Valencia, 1400 km away, carrying so many people. 

 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff – who happens to be onboard the Aquarius – commenting on the crisis informed that the migrants were stable but the food and water would run out by night. According to MSF staff, some of the passengers are suffering from water in their lungs as well as chemical burns (caused when gasoline mixes with sea water).  Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said: “Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn’t.” He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. (Published on 11th June 2018) 

ii) Italy and Malta faced international pressure today to come to the aid of a rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants which is stranded in the Mediterranean as the two countries refuse to allow them ashore. A total of 629 people, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by SOS Mediterranee Saturday and are stuck aboard the French charity’s ship Aquarius, which is currently between Malta and Sicily. But Malta and Italy – where the new populist government has vowed a tough new stance on immigration – have both refused to take the migrants in. 

The UN called on the two nations to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as “an urgent humanitarian imperative” and suggesting the hundreds of board “are running out of provisions.” The EU and the bloc’s biggest member state Germany Europe made similar pleas. “The priority of both the Italian and Maltese authorities should be ensuring these people receive the care they need,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters, calling for a “swift resolution”. Germany called on “all parties to fulfill their humanitarian responsibility”. Italy’s refusal to take in the migrants is the first evidence of the new government’s hardened stance on immigration. (Published on 11th June 2018) 


M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.