ITALY has challenged Paris to take in more asylum-seekers and demanded an apology after the French president accused the new populist Italian government of cynical behaviour by refusing entry to the Aquarius rescue ship, which has 600 migrants on board.

Italy summoned the French ambassador for consultations and interior minister Matteo Salvini chided French president Emmanuel Macron by name during a speech in the parliament’s upper chamber.

Salvini said France had taken in only a fraction of the 9816 migrants it had pledged to welcome under a 2015 EU relocation plan to relieve frontline countries Italy and Greece of the burden of caring for newly arrived migrants.

He added: “So I ask President Macron to pass from words to action and tomorrow morning welcome the 9000 France promised to welcome as a sign of concrete generosity, and not just words.

“I speak in the name of a government, but I also have the ambition of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity.”

Italy has defended its decision to refuse to allow the Aquarius rescue ship to dock, saying it has never abandoned the ship and is escorting it to Spain.

Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbour in Valencia after Italy and Malta both refused.

The stand-off over the Aquarius appeared a clear tactic by Italy’s new government to force Europe’s hand at the upcoming summit of EU leaders in Brussels, from June 28-29.

For years, Italy has complained that it has been left largely alone to manage Europe’s migrant crisis, but the new government says its tactics have finally gotten the point across.

Salvini has said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports: on Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily, with 932 migrants aboard.

It was greeted by activists criticising the new policy, with a banner saying: “Stop the attack on refugees”.