A charity-run ship carrying around 230 migrants rescued at sea docked at a French port on Friday after being turned away by Italy, as a war of words over their fate between the two European Union neighbours intensified.
The French government agreed on Thursday to take in the Ocean Viking NGO ship, sharply criticising the new right-wing government in Rome’s refusal to do so and saying it would suspend plans to take in 3,000 migrants already in Italy.
As a French minister accused Rome of breaking a bond of trust and breaching international laws on safeguards for migrants, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called Paris’s reaction.
She said Italy had taken in almost 90,000 migrants at its ports this year, and that the EU needed to do more to defend its borders.
The Ocean Viking docked on Friday at a military port in Toulon, southern France, with migrants, including dozens of children, saved from the Mediterranean in October.
French Junior Minister for European Affairs Laurence Boone said that Italy’s rejection of the ship broke European rules about sharing responsibilities or taking in migrants.
“Trust has been broken… because there’s been a unilateral decision that puts lives in danger and which also doesn’t comply with international law,” Boone told Franceinfo radio.
Charity SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, said migrants should be allowed to disembark in nations closest to rescue areas and pledged to be back at sea “within a few weeks”.
“Nothing will make us give up the imperative of sea rescue,” Alessandro Porro, the head of the group in Italy, said in a statement.