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More than 900 rescued refugees arrive in Sicily

14 June 2018

Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbor after Italy and Malta both refused.

"We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone", Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, told the Senate.

Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) that makes up Italy's new government alongside the League, minister of labour and, with Salvini, joint deputy prime minister, said that it was "embarrassing" that France "preached to us" as Italy is asking its European partners to share duties with Italy.

Salvini called on France to apologise and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country that regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.

More than 900 people have arrived at the Italian port of Catania in Sicily after being rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard.

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United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi urged the European Union on Wednesday to sort out its "shameful" refugee policy after both Italy and Malta turned away a ship carrying hundreds of migrants. The Aquarius, with some 600 people saved from the sea over the last few weeks, is sailing to Spain after the country agreed to welcome the ship.

The case has reopened one of the main unresolved faultlines in European politics: how to share responsibility for migrants trying to enter the bloc from conflict zones and poor countries, mainly across Africa and the Middle East.

Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach global laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.

More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014.

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Salvini also demanded that France make good on its pledge to relocate migrants under a 2015 European Union scheme that never fully got off the ground.

According to the latest figures, around 7000 migrants are stranded in Serbia. He accused France of having caused the instability in Libya that has allowed smuggling networks to thrive by spearheading the 2011 NATO-led military campaign that led to the downfall of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

The migrants aboard the Aquarius, run by French NGO SOS Mediterranee, were stuck on the overloaded ship as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them.

The number of migrants arriving in Italy began plummeting a year ago after the Italian government under the centre-left Democratic Party negotiated controversial deals with Libya that beefed up its capacity to better patrol its coasts and discouraged land-based smugglers.

- Winfield reported from Rome.

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More than 900 rescued refugees arrive in Sicily