France has docked the rescue ship Ocean Viking with 230 migrants rescued at sea in the military port of Toulon, after bitter talks with Italy over the issue. The right-wing government in Rome refused to allocate a port to the Norwegian ship SOS Méditerranée, leaving it to wander at sea for more than two weeks.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin denounced Italy’s “incomprehensible choice” not to dock the boat when he announced that the ship was now allowed to go to Toulon. The French accused Rome of “failing to act as a responsible European state”.
‘Very dire consequences’
“It is clear that there will be very serious consequences for our bilateral relations,” Darmanin said. He finds the Italian government’s position “incomprehensible and selfish”. The French government’s plan to host a total of 3,500 refugees residing in Italy has been withdrawn for the time being.
Cry for help
The Ocean Viking is currently sailing near the French island of Corsica. Due to the Italian refusal, the Ocean Viking decided on Tuesday to divert its course to France, which earlier today promised to evacuate 4 of the 234 migrants on board after a distress cry from the captain, for medical reasons.
Sweet and bitter
“The situation on board the Ocean Viking has become unbearable for the 234 survivors,” the European NGO SOS Méditerranée said on Tuesday. “After 17 days on the ship, their mental health is seriously compromised with many of them suffering from insomnia and showing signs of anxiety and depression.”
After the French decision, says SOS Méditerranée, “with a bitter sense of relief”. The ship, which is also carrying 57 children, is expected to dock in Toulon, southern France, tomorrow morning.
Minister Darmarin said the ship was being housed “by exception”. Especially since the Italian authorities kept the people on board waiting for a long time. A third of the migrants on the ship will be “transferred” to France. Part will be housed in Germany. Darmarin stressed that passengers who do not meet the criteria for asylum seekers will be returned immediately.
The newly installed Italian government headed by right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s most right-wing wing since World War II, wants to crack down on migrants trying to reach Europe by boat from North Africa. More than 87,000 migrants have arrived by boat in Italy this year, according to official figures. Private organizations rescued about 14 percent and sent them to safety at sea. Rome provides for “protection of the borders” by refusing rescue ships from aid organizations.
Three more rescue ships were allowed to go to Italy this week, having been previously refused. Initially, only vulnerable immigrants were allowed to disembark. The rest will have to return to the sea, but the ships no longer leave the ports.
In the end, the remaining immigrants were allowed to enter Italy for health reasons. The Italian news agency reported that Meloni described it as “strange”.
Today, the French Minister of the Interior recalled that a special European mechanism allows the transfer of refugees who have arrived in other European countries, in particular in Italy, within the framework of international law and the law of the sea.
He called on “all other participants (in this mechanism), especially Germany” to suspend the planned reception of refugees in Italy in protest. Darmanin said France would take measures to tighten border controls with Italy.
The country will also map out the “implications” of Italy’s position on other aspects of its “bilateral relationship”.
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