Italy is opposing the Franco-German insistence on the principle of the “nearest landing port.”

As a mini-summit of EU interior and justice ministers in Helsinki on Thursday, Matteo Salvini told his counterparts that Italy opposes that the nearest country must take the migrants. The Italian interior minister was backed by Malta.

Salvini Twitted that “several ministers” praised his position against irregular migration.

In a non-paper circulated on Thursday, Malta and Italy made clear that “rules of search and rescue at sea (SAR), must not be exploited, the Italian public news agency ANSA reports.

The Franco-German axis wants Mediterranean countries to continue being the main port of entry for migrants while making sure that EU-wide asylum quotas are enforced. That should require at least ten EU member states taking the lead in distributing refugees, inclusive of Italy. However, a 2015 plan to redistribute 100,000 asylum seekers from frontline countries, mainly Greece and Italy, has proved inconsequential.

Trying to advance a modified version of this plan, Paris plans to host a meeting in Paris next week with 15 out of the 28 member states.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, warned on Thursday that member states needed to show solidarity or the bloc could “break apart.” In a statement to the German public broadcaster DW, Asselborn warned that Germany and France were making the case for a “civilized Europe,” accusing others of wanting to create a humanitarian “no-man’s-land.”

Migrant arrivals to Italy and Malta are down to 3,000 people in 2019, which is an 80% decline compared to 2018. The new coalition government in Italy has closed Italy’s ports to NGO rescue ships, while smaller boats continue to arrive.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Central Register of Foreigners registered 1.8 million people seeking protection in 2018, which is a 5% increase year on year.

71% of these asylum seekers came to Germany over the last five years and 1.3 million hold a humanitarian residence permit, which means they are recognized as refugees, of whom 526,000 are Syrian, 138,000 Iraqi, and 131,000 from Afghanistan.