French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Italy was "cynical and irresponsible" over the migrant vessel which had been left stranded in the Mediterranean after Italy and Malta refused to grant it permission to dock.
Spain's new Socialist government on Monday said it would allow the boat to dock at its eastern port of Valencia after Italy and Malta refused to accept it.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Wednesday said he wanted an apology from Macron for saying on Tuesday that Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to a migrant ship.
Italy summoned the French ambassador to protest and demanded an official apology.
Giuseppe Conte threatened to cancel meeting over French president's criticism of decision to block migrant vessel from docking in Italy. Sea Watch said it would, but only if the Rome-based rescue coordination center assigned it a safe harbor within navigation range.
Italy's rejection of a migrant ship is shameful but the responsibility lies with Europe as a whole, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Wednesday. The EU plan, which was meant to relieve pressure on Italy and Greece, has largely flopped, with only a handful of countries receiving their share of newcomers.
The convoy will now proceed between Sardinia and mainland Italy, "to shelter from the weather that is otherwise unbearable for the people aboard, who are exhausted, suffering from shock and sea sick", the French NGO that operates the Aquarius, SOS Méditerranée.
"I speak in the name of a government, but I also have the aim of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity", Salvini, the leader of the anti-migrant League party, said to applause in the Senate chamber.
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Ironically, France has failed to fulfill its obligations to receive migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that the issue of migration was "a sort of decisive test for the future and cohesion of Europe". Many West Africans have continued on to France, only to be sent back to Italy to have their asylum claims processed there.
"Italy and France must deepen their bilateral and European cooperation to implement an effective migration policy with countries of origin and transit", the statement said.
Charities have sounded the alarm over the toll the crisis is taking on migrants' safety.
Several EU countries have, however, housed migrants who entered the bloc via other routes, with Germany admitting more than a million people in recent years.
The gruesome discovery of the bodies highlighted the ruthlessness of gangs that prey on migrants heading to Europe. "The dispute on migration must not be carried out at the expense of people in need".
The issue of how to share the migrant burden is expected to dominate an European Union summit at the end of June.
"France a year ago received a record number of asylum seekers", she said - 100,000 asylum requests.