The charity boat Ocean Viking authorized to dock in Toulon, France
Paris: France allowed an NGO ship carrying more than 200 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to dock at the port of Toulon, while harshly blaming Italy for not boarding the boat.
Immigration is a hot topic in both countries, and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the right-wing Italian government’s ban on the charity ship, stranded off Sicily for days, was “reprehensible” and “selfish”.
“In this context, France has decided on an exceptional basis to make up for the unacceptable behavior of the Italian government and to invite the ship to come to the military port of Toulon,” Darmanin told a press conference.
Italy strongly rejected the criticism, saying the French reaction underscored Europe’s inability to cope with growing numbers of migrants, many of whom reach the continent via boats from North Africa.
“France’s reaction to the request to welcome 234 migrants, while Italy has welcomed 90,000 this year alone, is totally incomprehensible in the face of the constant calls for solidarity”, declared the Minister of the Interior. Matteo Piantedosi in a statement.
The Ocean Viking, which is operated by the charity SOS Méditerranée, was sailing by the French island of Corsica on Thursday but was previously close to Italy. He was due to arrive in Toulon on Friday.
“There is no doubt that it was in Italy’s search and rescue zone,” Darmanin said, adding “there will be extremely strong consequences for the bilateral relationship.”
For starters, France will not take in some 3,000 migrants who arrived in Italy and whom Paris had previously agreed to take in. The French would also strengthen controls at its borders with Italy to prevent migrant crossings, he said.