Italy summons French envoy as migration dispute escalates

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

Italy postponed high-level talks with France Wednesday after Paris blasted Rome for its "nauseating" refusal to take in a migrant rescue ship, in a major diplomatic spat.

Economy Minister Giovanni Tria spoke with his French counterpart after cancelling his meeting, a French finance ministry official said, and both agreed to reschedule their session in coming days.

Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers, and has said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry.

Italy earlier this week demanded an apology from Macron after the French president accused Italy's populist government of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its decision to close the country's ports to a vessel carrying more than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

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

"We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone", far-right Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told the Senate.

The French president's office has confirmed the visit to France of Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.

The MEP also defended the approach of the sitting Italian minister of the interior, who denounced the "hypocrisy" of the French government, whose border with Italy is closed, in order to prevent migrants from crossing the Alps to reach France. After also being refused by Malta, the rescue vessel, which is carrying 629 migrants, is heading to Spain escorted by two Italian ships.

The Aquarius will now dock in Valencia, which is 800 miles from where the ship had been stranded.

"It's a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors, to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe", Beau told reporters in Marseille, France.

France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

"We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration", he said.

Spain offered safe harbour in Valencia after Italy, which wants other European Union countries to accept more migrants, refused to do so.

Pope Francis has called for a "change in mindset" on migration policies, saying global cooperation was vital, as Italy and France engaged in a diplomatic spat over the issue.

He said countries "must move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society". However, the source added that Macron was not "taking back anything". In practice, the policy has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in recent years.