French President Emmanuel Macron has hailed progress on the migrant issue after an eighth EU country joined a deal to resettle refugees rescued in the Mediterranean. As meetings took place in Paris on Monday, a French charity obtained a new ship to resume search and rescue operations.
Macron said 14 EU states had approved the plan to establish a more efficient system of redistributing rescued people, with eight saying they would actively take part. They are France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland.
Italy, which bears the brunt of the EU's migrant influx, was only represented by a "technical delegation".
Monday's tentative agreement in Paris follows the initial proposal put forward last week by France and Germany in Helsinki. The 14 states aim to reach a final agreement in September in Malta.
France said it was confident the “solidarity mechanism” would succeed.
"The haggling about emergency rescue in the Mediterranean must finally end," said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Paris. "It is really necessary that we manage to put together a coalition of those who are prepared to help, and I think we came a step closer to that today."
Italy 'does not take orders'
Italy’s populist Interior minister, Matteo Salvini, tweeted his strong disagreement with the talks and allowing France and Germany determine the bloc's policy while nations like Italy are on the front line.
"Italy does not take orders and is not a partner," he said. "If Macron wants to discuss migrants, come to Rome."
The meeting of ministers, called by Macron, preceded talks later Monday between the French president and the UN chiefs for refugees and migration.
France has stressed the need for European countries to share the arriving migrants, who are often travelling on traffickers' flimsy boats and rescued by humanitarian groups.
Libyan detention centres
President Macron called on the Libyan authorities to put a stop to the detention of migrants and to house them in safe places, with the help of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
"We have a priority, which is first and foremost, of humanitarian nature. And that’s the situation in Libya," Macron said at the Elysées Palace on Monday. "We have witnessed refugee camps being bombed and attacks on UNHCR compounds. This is an extremely worrying situation!"
A programme - launched in France in 2017 - should be applied again, with the support of the IOM, AU, EU and UNHCR, for the voluntary return of refugees in Libya towards their countries of origin.
It will not concern migrants seeking asylum but those who left their country for economic and social reasons. They are vulnerable, at the mercy of traffickers and sometimes enslaved.
UNHCR said that they are negotiating an accord with Rwanda, similar to that with Niger, aimed at managing the migration flow.
Macron added that there will be stronger cooperation with Niger and more funds allocated to dismantle the network of human traffickers.
New migrant rescue ship
SOS Mediterranee, a European charity, partnering with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), announced it has returned to the sea with a new boat to save migrants, seven months after the flag was pulled from its original ship, the Aquarius.
The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking will be operational in August and is heading to the Mediterranean with a 31-member crew.
Salvini wasted no time in warning SOS Mediterranee that Italy would not bend on its policy of keeping rescue ships at bay.
He tweeted: "if someone is thinking about helping smugglers or breaking laws, be careful because we won't be standing still.”
Italy's populist government has refused to allow ships carrying people rescued at sea to dock while EU countries refuse to share the burden of the arrivals.
President Macron said that there will be a "dialogue" with the NGOs involved in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean;
This will take place under the aegis of IOM, UNHCR and the European Commission.
“Our presence at sea is to save lives – that’s the bottom line,” said Sam Turner, MSF Head of Mission for Search and Rescue and Libya.
“These deaths and suffering of refugees and migrants are preventable, and as long as it continues, we refuse to sit idle.”