Rome - Italy on Tuesday said it would not accept "hypocritical lessons" from countries like France on migrants, in a growing row over 629 people stranded in the Mediterranean to whom Rome refused entry.
"The statements concerning (the humanitarian ship) Aquarius that come from France are surprising ... Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration," the new populist government said in a statement initially reported by Italian media and then confirmed by government representatives to AFP.
The government was responding to French President Emmanuel Macron accusation of "irresponsibility" over Italy's handling of the crisis.
"The Italian government has never abandoned the almost 700 people aboard the Aquarius," the statement in reply insists.
The migrants saved by the Aquarius, run by French NGO SOS Mediterranee, were stuck on the overloaded ship for over 30 hours as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them before Spain stepped in and offered the port in Valencia as a place for the migrants to land in Europe.
"After the refusal of Malta to allow the people aboard the Aquarius to disembark there, we received an unprecedented gesture of solidarity from Spain. The same cannot be said of France, which has often adopted much more rigid and cynical immigration policies," the Italian government says.
Macron is due Friday to receive new Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte ahead of a European Council meeting later this month when migration is set to be high on the agenda.
"I'm pleased that they (France) have discovered responsibility. Let them open their ports and if they want we can send them a few people," Italy's deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio told reporters on Tuesday.
In a Facebook post, Di Maio then slammed France, saying that they "hold back migrants every day at Ventimiglia", a border town between Italy and France and an immigration hot spot.
Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement that makes up Italy's new government alongside the nationalist League, said that it was "embarrassing" that France "preached to us" as Italy is asking its European partners to share the rights and duties in solidarity with Italy.