Macron Lashes Out at Italy over ‘Sickening’ Efforts to Curb Mass Immigration

(R) French President Emmanuel Macron attends a joint news conference with New Zealand's Prime Minister at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 16, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / CHARLES PLATIAU (Photo credit should read CHARLES PLATIAU/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has censured Italy’s decision to refuse debarkation to a migrant-laden NGO vessel as “sickening,” while scolding Italy for its supposed “cynicism and irresponsibility” in dealing with migrants.

Early this week, the Italian government turned away the ship Aquarius, operated by the French-German NGO SOS Méditerranée, which has been conducting search-and-rescue missions in North African waters since 2015.

The League’s Matteo Salvini, now Italy’s Interior Minister, repeatedly accused NGO vessels such as the Aquarius of providing an illegal shuttle service for African migrants to Italy.

On more than one occasion, Salvini has denounced the NGOs for accepting financing from billionaire George Soros as part of his efforts to increase migration into Europe.

For years, the Italian government under Democrat leader Matteo Renzi threw up its hands over the immigration crisis, blaming Brussels for not taking stronger action while insisting its own hands were tied by rulings of the European Union (EU).

Malta joined Italy in closing down its ports to the Aquarius Monday, insisting that Malta is not the closest port-of-call to vessels leaving North African shores.

In his sharp rebuke Tuesday, Mr. Macron made no mention of his own country’s decision to close its southern borders with Italy to migrants, leaving Italy alone to deal with the roughly 640,000 migrants who have poured into the country since 2013.

The irony was not lost on Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who called out Macron’s France as a “hypocritical country,” while insisting that Italy would not accept lessons from them.

Mr. Macron, who rose to power last year, has faced internal criticism from his own party for supporting measures to tighten asylum requirements.

Marine Le Pen, Macron’s opponent in the 2017 runoff election, was much tougher on immigration, proposing a temporary suspension of all immigration. France, which rejected Le Pen’s position last year, has continued to suffer serious immigrant problems such as the recent armed brawls between migrants in Calais.

Growing security concerns resulting from his own policy have forced Macron to adopt stronger immigration measures similar to those proposed by Le Pen.

On Wednesday, French newspapers were abuzz over the tiff between France and Italy, noting that the Italian government had managed to place Europe’s migration crisis at the “summit” of issues to be urgently addressed by the European Union (EU).

Less than two weeks ago, Italy’s Giuseppe Conte assumed the office of Prime Minister, having formed a coalition government between the big-tent, anti-establishment Five Star Movement and nationalist League.

Mr. Conte, who heads Italy’s elected populist coalition government, has vowed to redistribute immigrants, pointing out that Italy has taken in some 640,000 immigrants over the past five years and demanding that other EU member states step up to ease the burden.

As Aquarius heads to Spain with its 630 passengers, Conte remains firm in his campaign promise to be “the defense lawyer of the Italian people.”

The Italian government’s new immigration stance seeks to mend Italy’s flawed policies, which allowed unchecked mass immigration with no clear plan of what to do with those arriving.

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