Ocean Viking. A migrant rescue ship has been allowed to dock in France after Italy refused
The French government has granted safe harbor to the rescue ship Ocean Viking, which is carrying 234 migrants.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that France would receive the ship’s passengers at the military port of Toulon on Friday.
The Norwegian-flagged ship, operated by the NGO SOS Méditerranée, has been at sea for about three weeks.
Italy had refused to allow the migrants to land on Italian territory, which caused a dispute with Paris.
Darmanin said the Ocean Viking’s 230 passengers would later be split between France, Germany and other European countries.
The French coast guard has already started a medical examination and four immigrants were evacuated from the ship by helicopter for medical reasons.
“All measures will be taken to provide passengers with the necessary health and medical care and to carry out security controls,” Darmanin told reporters after the government’s weekly cabinet meeting in Paris.
He added that the decision was made “exceptionally” and that passengers who do not meet the criteria for asylum seekers will be “directly deported”.
Some opposition lawmakers criticized the French government, arguing that by welcoming the NGO ships, the country would encourage migrant smuggling.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, said the move was a “dramatic signal of weakness”.
The Ocean Viking transported more than 230 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea for about 20 days.
Sophie Beau, director general of SOS Méditerranée, said the situation on the plane had reached a “critical stage” with the risk of “loss of human life”.
After Italy’s far-right government refused to grant the ship safe harbor, it sailed to the French island of Corsica in the hope of disembarking.
Maloney gives way, lets the hundreds come down
Meanwhile, the Italian government backtracked and allowed hundreds of rescued migrants to disembark on three other NGO ships, not just those deemed “vulnerable”.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni caused a diplomatic rift by prematurely thanking the French government for taking the ship on Tuesday. The French government did not publicly make such a promise at that stage.
Maloney stated that European countries should share the responsibility of receiving migrants found in the Mediterranean Sea, especially if the rescue ships are flying their country’s flag.
But Darmanin criticized Rome’s choice as “unacceptable” and “incomprehensible” and warned that there would be “very strong consequences for bilateral relations”.
“France will take measures in the coming hours to tighten border security with Italy” and adjust bilateral relations accordingly, Darmanin said on Thursday.
“France deeply regrets that Italy did not accept to behave like a responsible European state,” he added.
“Managing migration flows in the Mediterranean is a European issue that concerns us all, calling for a European response.”
The French government has stopped the planned arrival of 3,500 refugees from Italy with “immediate force”.
The European Commission has taken an unusual stance on internal immigration and has called for the Ocean Viking to “go down immediately”.
French government spokesman Olivier Veran said that Paris will organize a meeting with Brussels in the coming days to discuss Italy’s position.
Under maritime law, all people at sea have the right to access the nearest safe port where they can seek refuge.
“The standards of salvation are not discretionary”
France and Italy previously clashed for the Aquarius migrant rescue shipwhich eventually landed in Valencia, Spain in 2018.
“The intolerable condition of the Vikings of the Ocean shows that it is urgent for the European states to put in place a permanent mechanism of descent and distribution; [for rescued migrants]”said Sophie Beau, director of SOS Méditerranée.
“The [French government’s] the solution has a bitter taste because these 234 people just went through a real ordeal,” he told AFP.
“It is a relief tinged with bitterness, it is indeed a recognition of the failure of the policies of the European (member) countries, which have violated the law of the sea in an unprecedented manner.”
The Italian government’s attempt to blackmail the bloc had no legal basis in international law, Fulvio Vassalo Paleologo, a former professor of asylum rights and the constitutional status of foreigners at the University of Palermo, told Euronews.
“The standards according to which the state rescues migrants are not discretionary, but are defined by international law, such as the Hamburg SAR Convention, the EU Frontex Regulation, as well as the UNCLOS Convention. Discharge should take place at the nearest safe port and area. in the shortest possible time,” explained Vassalo Paleologo.
“Coastal countries cannot show their commitment by sending migrants to another, faraway country that can take weeks to reach.”
“Italy has to play by these rules, but the government doesn’t want to because of political interests,” he said.
In addition, the Meloni government’s demands for more aid from other EU member states are not justified by the number of arrivals at Italian ports, according to Vassalo Paleologo.
“The number of migrants arriving in Italy is not so great as to justify the request for more solidarity from Europe. If you look at the number of asylum applications submitted, Italy has about 50,000 a year and Germany about 100,000, 150,000 more.”
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