Italy’s interior minister said on Wednesday he deplored tensions with Paris over migrants, which escalated last week after a charity ship rejected by the country docked in southern France to disembark some 230 people rescued at sea.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, operated by the non-governmental organization (NGO) SOS Mediterranée, “autonomously” decided to head for the French coast after spending days off the island of Sicily.
“Italy never intended to take such a decision, which created international tensions… and could produce consequences for migration policy at the European level,” Piantedosi told the upper house.
France has accused the newly formed right-wing government in Rome of breaching the bond of trust and violating international migrant protection laws, saying it would not take in the 3,000 migrants it had previously promised to accept from Italy.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni responded by describing Paris’s reaction as “incomprehensible and unjustified”. The dispute seems to have calmed down only on Monday after talks between Italian and French presidents Sergio Mattarella and Emmanuel Macron.
SOS Mediterranée responded to Piantedosi on Twitter, saying Italy had left “no other choice but to ask France for safe harbor”.
Piantedosi, a career civil servant and Independent, insisted that Italy was under no obligation under international law to take responsibility for migrants rescued by “private vessels” and said charity ships flying the flags of other countries should turn to them for help.
“Italy has always emphasized the need for migrant arrivals to not only burden countries on Europe’s external borders,” Piantedosi said, also criticizing insufficient resettlement under the EU’s burden-sharing scheme.
He also stated that the country is considering offering migration channels to countries that accept repatriations and help prevent departure by sea.
“The aim would be to tackle migrant smuggling and at the same time strengthen legal channels of entry,” he said.
Italy has seen a sharp rise in migrant landings this year, with almost 93,000 people arriving so far in 2022, compared with 59,300 in the same period last year. About 15% was picked up by charity boats.
However, the country took in fewer refugees as a percentage of its population last year compared to EU neighbors such as France, Germany and Spain, according to data from the ISPI think tank, and has processed fewer asylum applications in the past two years.