A Stranded Migrant Rescue Boat Reveals the Depths of the EU’s Crisis


German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last week of the threat facing the European Union if it fails to reach a common asylum policy. Her warning could not have been more prescient: One week later, a diplomatic crisis has broken out between France and Italy over what should be done about a rescue boat carrying more than 600 migrants off the Italian coast. And the crisis threatens to get worse.

It began over the weekend when Matteo Salvini, the interior minister of Italy’s new populist and right-wing government and the leader of the anti-immigration League party, vowed Sunday to block the MS Aquarius, a vessel carrying 629 migrants rescued from the sea off the coast of Libya, from docking at Italian ports. The boat is run by two NGOs, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée. Salvini, who hinted Italy would take this approach with future NGO ships, suggested the boat dock in Malta instead. Malta’s government similarly refused to let the vessel disembark at its port.

Thankfully for the Aquarius, whose passengers include 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women, the diplomatic standoff didn’t last long. On Monday, the Spanish government stepped in, announcing that it would grant the vessel safe harbor at its port in Valencia. Salvini proclaimed Spain’s decision a “victory” for his government’s hardline immigration polices. MSF, however, was less celebratory. Though it welcomed the Spanish government’s “gesture of humanity” towards the hundreds of stranded migrants onboard, it noted that the new destination would require the vessel to travel an additional four days at sea amid deteriorating weather conditions.

Perhaps the person least impressed by the outcome was France’s Emmanuel Macron. Speaking at a cabinet meeting Tuesday, the French president blasted the Italian government’s “cynical and irresponsible” decision to block the boat from its ports. “If French coasts were a boat’s nearest shores, it would be able to dock,” Macron said, according to a government spokesperson.

But it is Italy, not France, whose ports have served as a main entry point to Europe for migrants crossing the Mediterranean—a retort the Italian government was quick to issue. Salvini said France has not shouldered its fair share of the burden when it comes to accepting migrants, and demanded an official apology. “We have nothing to learn about generosity, volunteerism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone,” he said in a speech Wednesday to Italy’s parliament.

The diplomatic row …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Global

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