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More than 900 rescued refugees arrive in Sicily

14 June 2018

"If an official apology doesn't arrive, prime minister Conte would be right not to go to France", Salvini told reporters after demanding that France take in more migrants.

"I speak in the name of a government but I also have the ambition of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity", he said.

Italy summoned France's envoy and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies on Wednesday, escalating a diplomatic standoff between the neighbouring European powers. Salvini was harshly critical of Malta for refusing to take the migrant ship after Italy closed its ports to it.

Italy's rejection of a migrant ship is shameful but the responsibility lies with Europe as a whole, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Wednesday.

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

On Wednesday morning, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants and two bodies aboard docked in Catania, Sicily, while the Aquarius headed into increasingly rough seas on its way to Valencia, where it is due to arrive on Saturday.

Salvini insisted Tuesday that the country's ports would no longer be open to foreign boats carrying migrants.

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Matteo Salvini accused France of turning back 10,000 migrants on its border with Italy.

While acknowledging that the controversial European Union quota system - which would have seen illegal immigrants arriving to the bloc forced on unwilling nations - was "a failure", the UN figure insisted: "Unless Europe goes back to this notion of sharing the burden, we will not get out of this situation". Across the European Union, only a third of the 98,255 migrants that were supposed to be relocated under the scheme had been relocated by the time it ended previous year.

SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), co-operating the Aquarius, are both well-known French charities.

Salvini's League campaigned during the March 4 national election on a strong anti-migrant agenda that included promises of mass expulsions of migrants already here.

Since migrant delivery NGOs stepped up their activities in the Mediterranean, over the past few years Italy has been burdened with approximately half a million illegal immigrants whose crime rate has been found to be significantly higher than that of native Italians, according to a study by Italy's largest business association.

The dispute began when French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday denounced the "cynicism and irresponsibility of the Italian government" for its handling of the Aquarius migrant rescue ship earlier this week.

Sophie Beau said Wednesday in a news conference in Marseille, France, "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".

More than 900 rescued refugees arrive in Sicily