French president Emmanuel Macron reacted at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday to Italy's refusal to host the Aquarius ship carrying 629 migrants.
The Elysee Palace had not yet commented on Italy’s refusal to accept Aquarius and the migrants rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean. But on Wednesday, at the Council of Ministers, Emmanuel Macron denounced “the cynicism” and “irresponsibility” of Italy, according to the government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.
The Head of State “reminded us of maritime law” which states “that in case of distress it is the nearest coast that takes responsibility for the reception”. Macron said if a boat had France for the nearest shore, it could dock in France because “it is international law”.
The president hailed the courage of Spain which has decided to accomodate the vessel, according to the spokesman.
Since Monday, several personalities of the leftist opposition in France had hounded the president because of his silence on the Aquarius affair.
Italy and Malta have closed their ports to the NGOs vessel. The new Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, had campaigned before the legislative elections on the theme of closing borders to migrants. He warned that once in power, he would do everything to prevent these landings, especially when they are done by NGOs patrolling off Libya.
The new Spanish government has offered to host the ship, which has to go to the port of Valencia.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Friday that tightened rules on migrant-rescuing NGOs were not effective enough and “there is a clear plan to act as taxis from Libyan territorial waters”. Salvini said that “unfortunately it isn’t as if you can intervene in an effective way with the (existing) rule”. He said “we are working on the front of these NGOs, some of whom do voluntary work, while others do business”.
In 2008, France signed a Framework Agreement with UNHCR establishing an annual resettlement programme. Under the Agreement, France committed to examining approximately 100 resettlement applications every year. In both 2014 and 2015, France agreed to receive 500 Syrians and Palestinians from Syria residing in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt (Humanitarian Admission Programme). No figures are available for 2016 pledges according to the Programme de Réinstallation et d’admission Humanitaire en France. Qu’est-Ce qui Fonctionne?, European Migration Network, 2016.
Main French bodies working with asylum seekers: Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII), French Office for Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), Forum Réfugiés-Cosi (FRC), France Terre d’Asile (FTDA), Adoma, Entraide Pierre Valdo, ISARD-COS, selected regional and local authorities.