France has reported that it will permit the rescue vessel dubbed the Ocean Viking, which is carrying over 200 refugees and migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, to dock at the port of Toulon, following highly tense exchanges with Italy regarding the ship’s fate.
On Thursday, France’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, mentioned that the Italian government’s ban on the boat was both “selfish” and “incomprehensible”.
In such a situation, France reportedly decided on an exceptional and unforeseen basis to make up for Italy’s government’s behaviour and to invite the vessel to reach the military port of Toulon, Darmanin reported during a press conference.
The NGO boat is reportedly carrying 234 individuals, including 57 children. France will welcome about a third, Germany will accept another third, while the remaining will be taken in by other EU nations.
Video Credits: FRANCE 24 English
The vessel on Thursday was sailing by the island of Corsica, per shipping data. It was reportedly close to Italy before that. Per information from various news sources, it was expected to reach Toulon on Friday.
There’s no doubt that Ocean Viking was in Italy’s research and rescue zone, Darmanin explained. He added that there would be substantial consequences for the bilateral relationship France shares with Italy regarding the issue.
France accused Italy of acting ‘irresponsibly.’
To begin with, France will discard its agreement with Rome to take in over 3,000 migrants and refugees who previously reached Italy. France is also reinforcing its controls at borders with its southeastern neighbour.
The question regarding the handling of immigration in the border-free EU has long been a source of tension, but France’s harsh and open criticism of Italy (made on Thursday) is more unusual.
France profoundly regrets that Italy has chosen not to behave like a responsible European state, Darmanin mentioned.
Relevant Italian authorities have argued that other EU nations must shoulder more of the burden of taking in the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe via sea every year, often in unsafe vessels.
Italy has witnessed a significant increase in refugee arrivals in 2022. Almost 88,700 individuals have reportedly reached the country. During the same time last year, the number observed was 56,500. About 15% were picked up by charity vessels.
Four charity vessels transporting about 1,000 refugees and migrants had recently been stuck in Italy, with the government urging Norway and Germany to take charge.
On Tuesday, two boats disembarked in Catania after the government initially permitted ashore only those it said were vulnerable. A third smaller vessel was allowed to dock in the port of Reggio Calabria.
Ocean Viking has been at sea for over two weeks as its first rescue in the central Mediterranean was the fourth.
References: Aljazeera, New Indian Express