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January 23, 2010

After 124 undocumented immigrants landed on the French island of Corsica on Friday, France says it is now investigating the incident and searching for the traffickers who dropped them off.

Refugees who landed from a boat Friday morning sit inside the Bonifacio gymnasium
The landing of 124 undocumented migrants was the largest ever known on CorsicaImage: AP

France has launched an investigation into the arrival of 124 undocumented immigrants on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica and has called for a European summit on immigration.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson said France could not allow Corsica to become yet another point of entry for illegal immigrants into Europe.

"This event shows once again how it is of the utmost importance for the European Union to strengthen surveillance along its borders," he said. "We cannot let the Mediterranean fall into the hands of human traffickers."

Besson added that EU immigration ministers should hold a crisis meeting to introduce "emergency measures to strengthen controls" along the Mediterranean coast.

Fifty-seven men, 29 women – five pregnant – and 38 children were dropped off by a boat near the southern town of Bonifacio on Friday, officials said.

The boat reportedly then took off, suggesting it was driven by traffickers. French authorities say they are cooperating with Italian coastguards to locate the boat drivers.

Rescuers tend to a refugee
The incident has prompted France to call for a European summit on immigrationImage: AP

Government response

Some of the migrants said they were Kurds from Syria while others said they were from Middle Eastern or North African countries.

Authorities originally housed the group in a nearby gymnasium, but have since begun to transfer them to detention centers in mainland France.

The Immigration Ministry said they would assess each migrant's case individually, and that each "will get an interpreter, a medical check-up, information on aid in case of voluntary return and legal help."

The incident was the largest known mass-landing of immigrants on Corsica. Such landings are not uncommon on Italian islands further south, but it is unusual for illegal immigrants to enter Europe through French territory.

Editor: Kyle James