France, Italy dispute over migrant rescue boat

Tensions have risen between France and Italy over the fate of an NGO ship carrying 234 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

The latest conflict in Europe in recent years has erupted over where to disembark migrants picked up after trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

The line centers around the Ocean Viking, a charity ship that set sail for France from Sicilian waters after failing to wait for permission to dock in Italy since late October.

The ship, which is operated by the European charity SOS Mediterranee under the Norwegian flag, has appealed to France to accept it and was expected to approach Corsica by Thursday.

“This is a total blockage from the Italian side,” SOS Med director Sophie Beau told AFP, adding that it had submitted 43 official requests but had received no response.

The ship is sailing north along the Sicilian coast and may head to Sardinia and France, where the charity wants port access.

As of Wednesday morning, there had been “no official response yet” from French authorities, Baud said.

Nevertheless, Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tagjani claimed in an interview that France had offered Marseille as a safe port, as did the office of the country’s new far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, late Tuesday.

But Paris has not confirmed this, and government spokesman Olivier Veran said on Wednesday that Ocean Viking remains in waters under Italy’s responsibility.

He said the “current attitude of the Italian government, particularly its declaration and refusal to accept ships”, was “unacceptable”.

The Ocean Viking is the last of four NGO vessels to recover more than 1,000 migrants stranded on rickety ships at sea over the past few weeks, among the tens of thousands who have left for Europe in recent years. The latest.

– Hardball baseball –

The stalemate particularly reflects the dispute between Italy and other EU countries four years ago when President Emmanuel Macron clashed with Italian populist and anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Analysts say Meloni’s appointment as head of Italy’s far-right government for the first time in decades could rekindle strained relations and complicate decision-making on a range of issues at EU level. said.

Matthew Tardis, of the French Institute for International Studies, said: “There is a diplomatic arm-wrestling between France and Italy that could lead to a breakthrough in a similar dispute. Relations (IFRI).

Under international law, ships in distress or with rescued passengers must be allowed to enter the nearest port of call. This means that Italy and often Malta are carrying the burden of receiving those rescued after attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

In June, about a dozen EU member states, including France, agreed to accept migrants arriving at Italy and other key points of entry.

For Tajani, Rome’s reluctance to provide a port is a signal that European Union countries must play an even bigger role.

Rome wants an “agreement to establish how immigrants with asylum rights can move to different countries based on population,” Tajani said ahead of next week’s EU ministerial meeting.

So far this year, 164 asylum seekers have been transferred from Italy to other countries within the bloc where they have applied.

But Italian officials say this is a small fraction of the more than 88,000 people who have arrived on the coast so far this year, of whom only 14% have arrived after being rescued by NGO ships.

Meanwhile, Marseille’s left-wing mayor Benoît Payant told AFP on Wednesday that it “would be an honor for France” for his city to welcome Ocean Vikings.

Gilles Simeoni, leader of the regional council of French Corsica, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the country was ready to accept immigrants temporarily.

So far this year, 1,891 migrants have died or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations International Organization for Migration.

burs-js/adp/lc France, Italy dispute over migrant rescue boat

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