September 26, 2018 / 7:32 AM / 19 days ago

French minister likens Italy's Salvini to Pontius Pilate over migrants

PARIS (Reuters) - A French minister on Wednesday accused Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, of behaving “like Pontius Pilate”, the Roman official who washed his hands of the fate of Jesus Christ.

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini gestures during a news conference to approve a new decree of the measures on immigration and security at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy, September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Relations between Paris and Rome have soured since Italy’s new government took office in June and immediately moved to close its ports to charity ships that pick up migrants in the sea off Libya, forcing other EU states to step in.

In the latest such incident, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany agreed on Tuesday to take in migrants from the rescue ship Aquarius, after Italy refused to let the vessel dock.

“Mr Salvini today, he’s like Pontius Pilate. It’s obscene,” Loiseau told RTL radio.

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini looks up during a news conference with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after to approve a new decree of the measures on immigration and security at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy, September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Hours earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as telling reporters that Italy had “decided to no longer follow international law, in particular humanitarian maritime law”.

Salvini, who is head of the far-right League, accused Macron of hypocrisy on Wednesday, saying the French had turned back more than 50,000 migrants from the Italian border “in recent months”.

“We do not accept lessons on rights or humanity from Mr. Macron,” Salvini said in a statement.

Italy has taken in more than 650,000 migrants over the past five years. Under European Union regulations, asylum seekers are meant to stay in the first EU country they enter until their application has been processed — a process that can take years.

However, many migrants reaching Italy want to head immediately to wealthier northern countries, including France. The French have barred migrants from crossing their borders, saying EU rules have to be respected.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Sophie Louet; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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