4 EU members say they can't take so many migrant arrivals

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Four Mediterranean European Union nations have issued a joint statement on a dispute over a deal for Europe to jointly help asylum-seekers.

In their statement Saturday, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus repeated their positions that they “cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing spots for illegal immigrants.” They added that the number of migrants taken in by other EU member states “only represents a very small fraction of the actual number of irregular arrivals.”

The four countries condemned the operations of private charity vessels “acting in total autonomy from the competent state authorities” to save hundreds of migrants rescued at sea.

Italy’s new far-right-led government was locked in a weekslong standoff with humanitarian groups that rescue migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea. It argued that the countries whose flag the ships fly should take in the migrants, not Italy, a position vehemently opposed by humanitarian groups, legal experts and human rights activists.

After ignoring repeated requests for a safe port, Italy directed three ships with migrants to ports in southern Italy, initially selecting for disembarkation only those deemed vulnerable, including minors and those with medical conditions. Eventually all were allowed to enter Italy. But a fourth ship, the Ocean Viking, remained in international waters and eventually made its way toward France after nearly three weeks at sea, finally docking Friday at the port of Toulon.

The Ocean Viking episode led to a diplomatic flap between Italy and France, after Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, thanked Paris for accepting the migrants before France had agreed to do so.

French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin then announced France’s withdrawal from a “solidarity” mechanism approved in June to reduce the pressure on front-line countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain by taking in asylum-seekers. French officials also announced new border checks with Italy.

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By Demetris Nellas And Colleen Barry, The Associated Press