Nov. 11 (UPI) — The French and Italian governments are clashing over how they are handling migrant rescue boats after Italy refused to allow the Ocean Viking ship to dock. The Ocean Viking headed for France instead. France has frozen plans to take in 3,500 migrants from Italy.
At a Rome press conference Friday Italy’s new right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the episode is a “misunderstanding.”
Italy had already taken three vessels with rescued migrants before rejecting the Ocean Viking. Italy announced France would take the Ocean Viking when reports suggested that France had not agreed to do that at the time Italy announced it.
In a statement Friday, the French Interior Ministry said: “France has agreed to let the humanitarian ship Ocean-Viking dock in the military port of Toulon on November 11 around 8:50 am. State services are fully mobilized to organize and ensure the care of the 234 migrants who were on board.”
According to the statement, the migrants were taken to a “temporary international waiting area” in Giens to carry out health control measures and administrative procedures. But the migrants are not authorized to enter French territory.
Meloni called France’s refusal to take the 3,500 migrants aggressive and incomprehensible.
European Union countries have voluntarily agreed to relocate migrants throughout Europe so one country does not bear a disproportional burden in accepting them. France’s action refusing to take the 3,500 migrants in effect freezes that arrangement for now.
For the more than 234 asylum-seeking migrants aboard the Ocean Viking it has been a weeks-long ordeal to find a safe harbor, eventually provided by France.
“At this time, 11 European states have already committed to taking back 175 of the 234 passengers on the Ocean Viking,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said. “France can count on the support of its partners. We thank them warmly. European solidarity is a success.”
On Wednesday France had called Italy’s refusal to take the Ocean Viking full of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean sea ‘”unacceptable.”
Meloni campaigned on adopting a hard line on immigration.