Italy summoned the French ambassador Wednesday in response to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron denouncing the Italian government for turning away hundreds of migrants aboard a rescue ship.
Macron said Italy was required by international law to take in the migrants, who are mainly from sub-Saharan Africa.
'There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government's behavior with regards to his dramatic humanitarian situation,' Macron told his Cabinet, according to government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Wednesday that France should be taking in many more migrants itself, and that Macron should move from 'words to action.'
The French rebuke highlights tensions within the European Union over how to handle the migration crisis. While Italy has taken in more than 640,000 migrants over the past five years, other EU nations have largely ignored appeals from Rome to accommodate some of the migrants.
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio dismissed France's criticism, saying, 'It is rich coming from them.'
Italy dispatched two ships Tuesday to help transport the 629 migrants to Spain, which unexpectedly volunteered Monday to take in the group. It was not clear when that journey would begin.
The migrants, who were picked up off the Libyan coast last weekend, have been stuck on the rescue ship Aquarius in international waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, which also denied them entry.
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders, which operates the Aquarius along with the SOS Mediterranee, said the migrants were 'exhausted and stressed' and warned of severe health risks to some passengers during the 1,500 kilometer journey.
The Aquarius is overcrowded, so the four-day trip to Spain, in what is expected to be bad weather, will be particularly perilous.
To help overcome the problems, two Italian boats approached the Aquarius to take on some of the migrants before heading west through what are expected to be stormy seas.
Italy's new interior minister and head of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, said his actions this week are designed to force other European countries to share the burdens presented by the ongoing influx of migrants.