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Italy and France in row over migrant rescue ship

France suspends deal to take in thousands of asylum seekers.

The diplomatic spat between Paris and Rome over migrants escalated on Thursday when the French government suspended a plan to take 3,500 asylum seekers currently in Italy.

The row was triggered after Italy's new right-wing government of Giorgia Meloni refused to allow the Ocean Viking ship - carrying 234 rescued migrants - from docking in any Italian port, a move slammed as "unacceptable" by the French government.

On Friday morning the southern French port of Toulon welcomed the search-and-rescue ship, operated by charity SOS Méditerranées, after it had spent more than two weeks waiting to be assigned safe harbour.

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin said on Thursday that Italy's decision not to assign a port to the Ocean Viking, despite dozens of requests, was "incomprehensible" and would have "extremely severe consequences for our bilateral relations" with Rome.

Blaming the “the new Italian leadership” for banning the ship from docking, Darmanin called on all countries involved in a European Union migrant relocation agreement, "including Germany", to suspend the relocation of asylum seekers from Italy.

Darmanin blasted Italy's response to the situation as "inhumane" and announced that France would deploy an additional 500 police to its border with Italy at Ventimiglia to prevent migrants from crossing over into French territory.

Italian interior minister Matteo Piantedosi hit back at the French government, stating: “The reaction that France is having in the face of a request to take in 234 migrants — when Italy has taken in 90,000 this year alone — is totally incomprehensible in the face of constant calls for solidarity owed to these people”.

"It also demonstrates how firm and determined the posture of other nations in the face of illegal immigration" - said Piantedosi - "What we do not understand is why Italy should gladly accept something that others are unwilling to accept."
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