Italy’s interior minister said on Wednesday he regretted tensions with Paris over migrants, which escalated last week after a charity ship docked in southern France refused to disembark some 230 people rescued at sea.
Interior Minister Matteo Bentedosi said the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, operated by NGO SOS Mediterranée, had decided “independently” to head towards the French coast, after spending days off Sicily.
“Italy never intended to take such a decision, which has created international tensions … and could have repercussions for migration policies at the European level,” Biantidossi told the Senate.
France accused the newly formed right-wing government in Rome of breaching trust and violating international laws on guarantees for migrants, saying it would not receive the 3,000 migrants it had previously pledged to accept from Italy.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni responded by describing Paris’ reaction as “incomprehensible and unjustified”. The feud only seemed to subside on Monday, after talks between Italian and French presidents Sergio Mattarella and Emmanuel Macron.
SOS Mediterranee responded to Piantedosi on Twitter, saying that Italy had left it “no other choice but to ask France for a safe port”.
Piantedosi, a professional and independent civil servant, insisted that under international law Italy had no duty to take responsibility for migrants rescued by “private vessels”, and said that charity vessels flying the flag of other countries should turn to them for help.
“Italy has always stressed that inbound arrivals should not only affect countries at Europe’s external borders,” Biantidossi said, also criticizing insufficient transfers under the EU’s burden-sharing scheme.
He also stated that the country is considering offering immigration channels to countries that accept deportation and help prevent sea departures.
“The aim is to tackle migrant smuggling while at the same time strengthening legal channels of entry,” he said.
Italy has seen a sharp increase in migrant arrivals this year, with nearly 93,000 people arriving so far in 2022, compared to 59,300 in the same period last year. About 15% was transported by charity ships.
However, last year the country took in fewer refugees as a percentage of its population than EU neighbors France, Germany and Spain, as evidenced by data from the ISPI research institute, and in the past two years it has processed fewer asylum applications.