Italy accepts 900 migrants but 600 more continue onto Spain

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Thursday he still expects French President Emmanuel Macron to apologize for critical comments he made about Italian immigration policy two days ago.

The ship had been drifting in the central Mediterranean since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta closed their ports to it.

The port of Valencia is some 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from where the vessel had been on standby.

He has accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

The furore comes after President Macron blasted Rome on Tuesday for closing its port to a ship with 629 migrants on board from attempting to enter the country.

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".

France claims it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, believing the planned meeting between Macron and Conte would go ahead.

Branding Italy's decision to close its ports to a boat of 629 migrants "shameful", United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi demanded European Union (EU) countries make it as easy as possible for open borders-backing NGOs to continue ferrying immigrants from Africa to Europe.

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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.

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. German aid group Sea-Watch said the migrants were picked up after their rubber dinghy sank and the Navy also had recovered the bodies of 12 people.

Salvini told the Senate he was open to a possible "axis" with Germany and Austria on immigration ahead of a key European Union summit at the end of June that will, in part, consider changes to European Union asylum law to better share the burden of incoming migrants.

Italy has defended its decision to refuse to allow the Aquarius rescue ship to dock, saying it has never abandoned the ship and is escorting it to Spain. Conte's office refused to confirm the report.

It added that Italy was waiting for French to take action to "heal the situation that has been created".

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of revision amid a major political dispute - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.

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