Italy said it will seize two migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean, amid a deepening row over migrants.

Reports say two German non-governmental organisations (NGO) ships carrying migrants “will be seized” to determine their legal status.

The move comes as French President Emmanuel Macron attacked the “leprosy” of anti-EU feeling, angering Italy’s new populist government.

Italy sparked the fresh row earlier this month when it refused to take in the Aquarius rescue ship.

Carrying 630 migrants rescued off the North African coast, the ship eventually sailed to Spain after being turned away by both Italy and Malta.

Leaders from 10 EU member states will meet in Brussels on Sunday to discuss how best to stem the flow of migrants to the bloc.

The Italian government earlier said it will not sign up to any EU plan unless it makes helping Italy a priority, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – known as the Visegrad Group – said they will boycott the talks.

The UN refugee agency yesterday said it was “shocked and saddened” by the recent drowning of 220 people off the coast of Libya, and called for urgent action.

Relations will be further strained after President Macron’s comments.

In a speech in Brittany, Mr Macron said anti-EU feeling was rising “a bit like a leprosy all across Europe”, including in “neighbouring countries” – without specifically naming any one nation.

According to the NGO, Lifeline rescued 224 migrants off the coast of Libya yesterday morning.

Italy’s new coalition government wants to deport half a million undocumented migrants, many of whom are housed in squalid reception centres.

More than 600 000 have reached Italy from Libya in the past four years.

 

-BBC