PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron denounced Italy’s refusal to take in more than 600 migrants stranded aboard the rescue ship Aquarius, accusing the government of “cynicism” and saying it had an obligation under international law.
Briefing journalists after a cabinet meeting, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Macron had made clear that the country with the nearest coastline to a stranded ship bore responsibility under maritime law.
“There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government’s behaviour with regards to this dramatic humanitarian situation,” Griveaux quoted Macron as saying.
The 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been drifting in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta shut their ports to it.
Spain unexpectedly offered on Monday to take in the Gibraltar-flagged ship, recognising that several of those on board, whom were picked up off the Libyan coast over the weekend, were in need of medical assistance.
The ship had sailed north towards Italy but Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party who became interior minister this month and has vowed to curb an influx of migrants from Africa, blocked it and said it should go to Malta instead.
The European Commission had urged member states to act with responsibility, calling on both Italy and Malta to respond.
Gabriel Attal, a spokesman for Macron’s Republique En Marche party, told France’s Public Senat TV channel the behaviour of Salvini and the broader Italian government was unacceptable.
“The line the Italian government is taking, makes me sick,” he said. “It’s totally unacceptable to play petty politics with human lives as is happening now.
(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; writing by Luke Baker; editing by John Irish)