France accepts migrant ship refused by Italy, vows retaliation
France is condemning Italy's refusal to take in the 230 passengers stuck at sea, calling it 'inhumane' and violating international laws and EU rules.
Following the migrant-rescuer ship carrying hundreds of asylum seekers being stuck offshore for three weeks, the ship finally docked in the French military port of Toulon after Italy’s far-right government refused to welcome it.
France agreed on Thursday to take the ship in, calling it an “exceptional” step, and vowed to retaliate against Italy for disrespecting international laws. Paris called Rome "irresponsible" and "inhumane" for not welcoming the migrants.
Named the Ocean Viking, the ship operated by the European NGO "SOS Méditerranée" had picked up the migrants at sea near the Libyan coast before spending weeks seeking a port to accept them.
The 230 passengers, including 57 children, arrived at France’s port of Toulon. Four passengers facing serious health difficulties had been previously airlifted from the boat via helicopter a day before and transferred to a French hospital.
Le Pen: Move proves France 'dramatically soft'
The passengers are anticipated to receive medical aid and be interviewed, so that those eligible to make asylum claims could be transferred to other European countries, including Germany, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, and Portugal, which already offered to take in two-thirds of the migrants in an act of “solidarity”.
However, those deemed ineligible for an asylum claim would be taken back to their original countries, according to the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
Darmanin stated that it was Italy's duty under EU rules to accept the asylum seekers, adding that France's acceptance was an exception for humanitarian reasons due to the dire health situations on board.
The Minister said France's President, Emmanuel Macron, had been striving for days to convince Italian authorities to consider international law and accept the migrant ship.
But, when asked about French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's comment that France was “dramatically” soft on immigration policies by allowing the boat to dock in Toulon, he said, “What does Marine Le Pen want? To let children die on that ship a few meters from our ports?”
Darmanin warned that there would be “severe consequences” for Italy’s bilateral relations with France and with the EU as a whole - labeling Italy as unprofessional to keep the ship waiting at sea for 20 days while they made a decision.
This tension between France and Italy comes after Italy elected its new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy, known as a party with neofascist roots. She joined forces back in September with the League's Matteo Salvini to demonstrate their "Italians First" nationalist agenda that vows to end mass migration into the country as a key aspect of their campaign.
With that, Meloni struck back at France during a news conference, expressing that she was “struck by the aggressive reaction from the French government, which from my point of view is incomprehensible and unjustified."
France, as a retaliatory response, decided to freeze a plan intended under the European burden-sharing accord to take 3,500 asylum seekers currently in Italy.
Even the UK is involved, as last January witnessed one man's death and about 30 other people were rescued in the Channel after their boat encountered difficulties while attempting to cross from northern France to Britain.