Italy accused Emmanuel Macron of 'arrogance' for saying migration flows to Europe had reduced as Malta refused entry to a ship carrying African migrants.
The country's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Macron's words showed he was out of touch with reality, as Spain rescued 264 people in the Strait of Gibraltar and Malta refused entry to the Mission Lifeline shop.
Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini had also blocked the Mission Lifeline ship — it comes ahead of a summit between EU leaders meeting to discuss the divisive issue of migration.
Mission Lifeline says the vessel with 234 migrants on board is adrift in international waters waiting for a safe port to dock.
The Mission Lifeline said the vessel was stranded in international waters of Malta. The island nation's military provided humanitarian assistance but the ship was not allowed to land there
The Mission Lifeline is a Dutch-registered ship that is run by a German charity of the same name. There are 234 migrants on board the ship
Matteo Salvini (center) regards rescue boats as a taxi service doing the work of people smugglers and said the migrants on the Mission Lifeline would 'only see Italy on a postcard'
Maltese armed forces provided humanitarian supplies to the Lifeline vessel but refused to let it dock.
The state's Premier Joseph Muscat tweeted that Malta had 'no responsibility' to allow the ship to dock.
Malta Armed Forces sends aid to the ship Lifeline, near Malta in International Waters June 23
Maltese armed forces provided humanitarian supplies to the Lifeline vessel but refused to let it dock
Migrants are seen on the ship Lifeline while the Malta Armed Forces arrive to send aid, near Malta in International Waters
Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa rest after arriving to the port of Tarifa, near Cadiz, southern Spain, left. Migrants are pictured right on a boat arrive at the the port
A girl is helped by medical staff after landing. Spanish authorities say they have rescued 264 people in 16 boats in the Strait of Gibraltar.
He added that the Mission Lifeline 'should move from its position toward their original destination (in Italy) to prevent escalation' of the situation.
Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, has been leading efforts to reduce arrivals from migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.
He he had contacted the Dutch ambassador about the Dutch-register Mission Lifeline's activities, adding that the migrants 'will only see Italy on a postcard.'
He has likened such rescue ships to taxi services that finish the job for migrant smugglers.
'We cannot take in one more person. On the contrary: We want to send away a few.'
Migrants on an inflatable boat being rescued before boarding the Mission Lifeline on June 21
'For the safety of the crew and those rescued we humanly and politically ask Malta to finally open one of its ports, and then seize the ship and its crew.'
Mission Lifeline denied Salvini's claims, saying it conducted the rescue in international waters and asked for a safe port, which had not been assigned.
The Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, took the migrants to Spain, travelling an additional 932 miles, after Italy and Malta refused to let them land.
EU leaders will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss migration, with Merkel at odds with a coalition partner over its demands to turn back migrants at the border.
However, several central European countries have said they will boycott the Brussels meeting and Merkel on Friday played down expectations of any major breakthrough.
Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said on Saturday he expects a chain reaction across the European Union if Germany closes its borders to refugees.
Italy on Saturday said 'arrogant' France risked becoming its 'No.1 enemy' on migration issues, a day before European leaders convene in Brussels for a hastily arranged meeting on the divisive issue.
In answer to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said migration flows towards Europe had reduced compared with a few years ago, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Macron's words showed he was out of touch with reality.
'Italy indeed faces a migration emergency and it's partly because France keeps pushing back people at the border. Macron risks making his country Italy's No.1 enemy on this emergency,' Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.
Macron said European cooperation had managed to cut migration flows by close to 80 percent and problems stemmed from "secondary" movements of migrants within Europe.