Paris: France has allowed an NGO ship carrying more than 200 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to dock in the port of Toulon, while harshly criticizing Italy for not taking the boat.
Immigration is a hot-button issue in both countries, and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the right-wing Italian government’s ban on the charity ship, which had been detained for days off Sicily, was “reprehensible” and “selfish”.
“In this context, France has exceptionally decided to make good the unacceptable behavior of the Italian government and invite the ship to come to the military port of Toulon,” Darmanin told a news conference.
Italy firmly rejected the criticism, saying the French response underlined Europe’s failure to deal with an increasing number of migrants, many of whom reach the continent via boats from North Africa.
“France’s response to the request to take in 234 migrants, while Italy has taken in 90,000 this year alone, is totally incomprehensible given the ongoing calls for solidarity,” Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said in a statement.
The Ocean Viking, operated by the charity SOS Mediterranee, sailed past the French island of Corsica on Thursday, but had been near Italy before. He would arrive in Toulon on Friday.
“There is no doubt that it was in Italy’s search and rescue zone,” Darmanin said, adding that “there will be extremely strong implications for the bilateral relationship.”
For starters, France will not take in some 3,000 migrants who had arrived in Italy that Paris had previously agreed to take. The French would also strengthen border controls with Italy to prevent migrants crossing over, he said.