France’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna has warned the new Italian administration there will be “consequences” if it continues to adopt a hard-line approach to migrant ships attempting to dock in Italian ports.
In a wide-ranging interview with French newspaper Le Parisien, Colonna expressed her “very strong disappointment” with the way Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her ring-wing government are conducting themselves.
In recent weeks, a number of NGO humanitarian rescue vessels have picked up migrants in the Mediterranean and sought to offload the individuals on Italy. A government decree was issued instructing authorities to prioritize the vulnerable — i.e., women, children, and those with medical issues — and to then order the ships’ captains to take those remaining on board to the vessels’ countries of registration.
Colonna claimed this was a marked change from normal practice and accused Italy of “neither respecting international law nor the law of the sea.”
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One such boat to recently encounter difficulties with the new Italian administration is the Ocean Viking, a Norwegian-registered vessel that is chartered by the French NGO SOS Méditerranée. It was refused permission to dock in Italy, and after 20 days of being anchored off the coast, the French government offered to accommodate the migrants on board at the French port of Toulon.
“The rule is that (you go) the nearest safe port: the ship was near the Italian coast,” Colonna told the French newspaper. “Given Italy’s stubborn refusal and lack of humanity, we exceptionally welcomed the ship. I would like to salute the outpouring of solidarity from the other states that we consulted and which have indicated their intention to welcome migrants on their soil,” she added.
If Meloni was hoping France would now share the burden of illegal immigration from Northern Africa currently borne by Italy, Spain, and Greece, Colonna was clear, insisting that existing “European mechanisms for aid and distribution of the solidarity effort do work” and calling Meloni’s deviation from these methods “unacceptable.”
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Asked what impact the Italian administration’s new approach to tackling the migrant crisis will have on the Franco-Italian relationship moving forward, the French foreign minister warned “there will be consequences if Italy persists in this attitude.”
France has already suspended a mechanism designed for relocating migrants from Italy and reinforced controls at the Franco-Italian border, a mechanism the Italian right will claim is already not fit for prupose.
Italian newspaper Il Giornale pointed out in an article published on Nov. 11, Italy has witnessed the landing of over 60,000 illegal immigrants over the course of the last five months, while France has accepted the transfer from Italy of only 38 asylum seekers during that period.
Colonna believes the suspension of the mechanism is an attempt to “remind Rome of its duty to humanity,” adding she hopes Meloni will “get the message.”