France suspends deal to host thousands of asylum seekers currently in Italy after row over stranded migrant rescue boat


The diplomatic fallout between France and Italy over a migrant boat stranded in the Mediterranean Sea is far from over.

The French government on Thursday suspended a deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers currently in Italy, as Paris criticized Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s recently appointed right-wing Italian government for not accepting passengers from the Ocean Viking migrant rescue.

Italy has not allowed the ship to dock on its territory, leaving in limbo some 230 passengers who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Thursday that France would allow the ship to dock at the French military port of Toulon on Friday. He blamed the “new Italian leadership” for making the “incomprehensible choice not to respond to the numerous requests for assistance sent by the ship” even though the ship was “clearly in Italy’s search and rescue zone” .

Darmanin also announced that France would immediately withdraw from a European Union deal where some asylum seekers accepted by Italy would be welcomed for relocation to other EU countries.

“France is suspending all relocations of 3,500 refugees currently in Italy and is calling on all other participants in the European mechanism, including Germany, to do the same,” he said.

A migrant in need of urgent medical attention is carried on a stretcher by a French army helicopter from the rescue ship Ocean Viking on November 10, 2022 in the Tyrrhenian Sea between Italy and the island of Corsica.

Italy responded by calling France’s reaction “totally incomprehensible” and “disproportionate”.

“The reaction that France is having to the request to welcome 234 migrants – when Italy has welcomed 90,000 this year alone – is totally incomprehensible in the face of the constant calls for solidarity that are owed to these people,” said the Minister of ‘Italian interior, Matteo. Piantedosi said in a statement, following Darmanin’s comments.

It also shows “how firm and determined the stance of other nations is on illegal immigration. What we don’t understand is why Italy should willingly accept something that others are not willing to accept,” he said. say Piantedosi.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani also called the French reaction “disproportionate”. Speaking to reporters in Amsterdam, Tajani said “it’s not written anywhere that they all have to come to us.”

Darmanin said France will soon organize a meeting with the European Commission and Germany “to draw the consequences of the Italian attitude and to better regulate rescue actions at sea by NGO ships in the Mediterranean”.

“This is a bittersweet sense of relief because 20 days is too long for those on board who now have to start rebuilding their lives,” Eliot Guy, a spokesman for SOS Mediterranee, the NGO that operates the ship, told CNN. rescue ship Ocean Viking, on CNN. phone, after France announced it would allow the ship to dock on its territory.

Guy confirmed that three people in need or urgent medical attention had been airlifted to a hospital in France on Thursday.

The survivors on board were rescued in six rescue operations between October 22 and 26, SOS Mediterranee said in a press release on Thursday.

“The landing almost three weeks after its rescue, so far from the area of ​​operations in the central Mediterranean, is the result of a dramatic failure by all European states, which have breached maritime law in an unprecedented manner,” explained the director of the group. of operations said Xavier Lauth.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) thanked France for “doing the right thing”.

An aerial photo taken on November 10, 2022 shows the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking escorted by a military vessel sailing off the coast of northern Corsica en route to Toulon with migrants on board near Rogliano, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica .

France’s decision came after the European Commission on Wednesday called for “the immediate disembarkation, at the nearest place of safety, of all rescued persons who are on board the Ocean Viking”.

The Commission has stressed in a statement that the situation on board the ship has reached “a critical level and must be addressed urgently to avoid a humanitarian tragedy”.

In recent days, some 1,000 migrants aboard four NGO ships have been stranded off the Italian coast, after Rome demanded that the countries whose flag the rescue ships were flying take responsibility for the migrants.

Two of those ships, Geo Barents and Humanity 1, were finally able to land in the southern Italian city of Catania, Sicily on Tuesday, while a third, named Rise Above, docked in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy.

The EU Commission said on Wednesday that it would “invigorate work to strengthen cooperation between member states in search and rescue activities” and would “urgently” call on members to work further on common solutions.

“The situation we are witnessing in the Mediterranean once again exposes the urgent need for a singular, cohesive migration and asylum policy,” he said.

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