While the world watched the historic meeting between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, European countries argued about which nation would accept a boat transporting African refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called it a “shameful” spectacle on Wednesday, Reuters reported, referring to Italy and Malta declining to allow the ship carrying hundreds of migrants to dock.
“It is shameful. As a European, I felt shame — shame — that there was a boat — there is a boat — in the Mediterranean, and for several days nobody wanted to take these people,” Grandi told Reuters.
There were seven pregnant women, 11 young children and 123 unaccompanied minors among the 629 refugees who were mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, according to BBC.
SOS Méditerranée, a French and German charity, rescued the stranded refugees from their unsafe inflatable vessels. They had been floating on the charity’s boat in the Mediterranean since Sunday without a place to dock. Spain ultimately agreed to accept them.
An anti-immigration sentiment across Europe has given rise to several right-wing populist parties whose main goal is to stop the wave of migrants coming to their countries. Italy’s new government came to power on an anti-immigration agenda, vowing to end illegal migration.
Since 2013, Italy has taken in more than 640,00 mostly African migrants and now wants its European Union partners to share the load. But there’s widespread anti-immigration sentiment within most E.U. nations.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron criticized Italy for refusing to accept the African migrants. “There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government’s behavior,” he said through a spokesman, BBC reported.
That comment did not go unchallenged. Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called France’s position on migrants “hypocritical.” Indeed, human rights groups protested in February against Macron’s plan to crack down on immigration and asylum.
Grandi chastised Italy for not following the agreed upon system, in which the country closest to stranded refugees are expected to take them in for processing. But he added that there must be “a system to share more equitably the responsibility” of allowing refugee boats to dock.