Four Mediterranean countries of the European Union issued a joint statement on the dispute over a European agreement to jointly aid asylum seekers.
In their statement issued on Saturday, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus reiterated their positions that they “cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing points for illegal immigrants.”
It added that the number of migrants received by other EU member states “represents only a very small amount of the actual number of irregular arrivals”.
The four countries condemned the operations of private charitable ships “which operate in complete independence from the competent state authorities” to retrieve hundreds of migrants rescued at sea.
The new Italian government led by the far-right has been in an ongoing confrontation for weeks with humanitarian organizations that rescue migrants in the central Mediterranean. She argued that flag states should take the migrants, not Italy, a position vehemently opposed by humanitarian groups, legal experts and human rights activists.
After ignoring repeated requests to dock at a safe port, Italy directed three ships carrying migrants to ports in the south of the country, initially allowing disembarkation only for those deemed at risk, including minors and those with medical conditions. But in the end it allowed everyone to enter Italy. But the fourth ship, the Ocean Viking, stayed in international waters and eventually made its way to France after spending nearly three weeks at sea, finally docking on Friday in the port of Toulon.
The “Ocean Viking” incident led to a diplomatic row between Italy and France, after the new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni thanked Paris for accepting migrants even before France agreed to do so.
Then, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced France’s withdrawal from the “solidarity” mechanism approved in June to reduce pressure on front-line countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain by taking in asylum seekers.
French officials announced new checks on the border with Italy.