Italy Wants to Sanction France for Creating Migrant Crisis by Colonizing Africa

Mediterranean migration France Italy
A member of the Spanish civil guard distributes bottles of water to migrants as they wait to be transferred after arriving aboard a coast guard boat at the harbour in Tarifa, Spain, on July 26, 2018. JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images

A diplomatic fight over Europe's migration crisis has erupted between Italy and France, with the deputy prime minister in Rome tying mass movement from Africa to France's history of colonization on the continent.

The French Foreign Ministry has summoned Italian Ambassador Teresa Castaldo to discuss "hostile" comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio of Italy, Reuters reported. Di Maio, the leader of Italy's populist Five Star Movement, told supporters at a rally Sunday that France is to blame for the mass migration of Africans across the Mediterranean and demanded that the European Union impose sanctions on the country.

"If today people are leaving Africa, is it because some European countries, with France taking the lead, have never stopped colonizing tens of African states," he said.

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Di Maio then called on the European Union to impose sanctions on France as a punishment for "impoverishing Africa." The deputy prime minister also demanded migrants recovered from the sea during their crossing be taken to the southern French port of Marseille, instead of Italy.

Italy was one of seven European nations that maintained colonies in Africa. This began in 1886, when it annexed the Eritrean port city of Massawa, until the Italian Empire controlled all of modern-day Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Libya. Under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Rome lost control of all its colonies during World War II.

Di Maio refused to back down on Monday, telling reporters France was using the CFA franc—a colonial-era currency underpinned by the French treasury—to manipulate the economies of 14 different African nations.

"France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts," he claimed.

The question of which country is responsible for such migrants has caused significant tension within the EU. Poorer southern European nations, such as Italy, Greece and Spain, are often the destination, but this has caused anger among residents of local communities, who fear they do not have the infrastructure to handle such a large influx of new arrivals.

The dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean has claimed tens of thousands of lives, with small boats overloaded with migrants by smugglers and sent toward the European coast. Many capsize, catch fire or are blown off course, leaving the travelers at the mercy of the sea and European naval patrols.