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France to deport 44 migrants after row with Italy

November 15, 2022

The migrants came into the country on board an NGO rescue ship after Italy refused to allow all them into one of its ports. French authorities say 44 of over 200 on board do not qualify for asylum status.

The Ocean viking " rescue ship of European maritime-humanitarian organisation "SOS Mediterranee" escorted by a military boat arrives at Toulon, southern France, with migrants on board, on November 11, 2022.
The rescue ship docked at the French Toulon port last Friday, with over 200 migrants on boardImage: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

France said on Tuesday it will deport 44 migrants who disembarked in the country last Friday on board an NGO rescue ship, after Italy refused to let them dock at one of its ports.

Of the 234 migrants allowed to dock at the Toulon port last week, 44 asylum applications have been rejected, the country's interior minister said. They will be returned to their country of origin "as soon as their health allows."

Sixty migrants of mostly Syrian, Sudanese and Eritrean nationalities have been allowed to request asylum. The remainder of the applications are still being examined, minister Gerald Darmanin said, hinting at further possible deportations.

The rescue ship Ocean Viking also included 44 minors, Darmanin added.

About a third of the migrants whose asylum requests are accepted would be hosted by France and Germany. A number of other European Union countries have volunteered to take in the remainder.

France-Italy row

The NGO ship has caused a significant row between France and Italy, after the latter's newly voted far-right government categorically refused to allow it to dock at one of its ports.

France, which had never before taken in a migrant rescue ship from the Mediterranean, strongly criticized Italy. It accused the neighboring country of violating international maritime law, which stipulates that rescue ships should dock at the nearest port.

In retaliation, the country went back on a solidarity agreement reached over the summer. As per the now-suspended agreement, France would have taken in 3,500 migrants currently in Italy.

Survivors pray upon awakening as they await a safe harbor on the Ocean Viking on November 7, 2022 in the Gulf of Catania in the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy's shores are usually closest to the frail migrant boats rescued by NGOs while attempting to cross over from AfricaImage: Vincenzo Circosta/AA/picture alliance

In return, Italy argued that it had taken more than its fair share of rescued migrants this year, urging a European solution to the crisis.

European disagreements over migrants from Africa

European countries have often been divided over the issue of migrants crossing the Mediterranean en route to Europe. Italy and Spain often complain that they take in the biggest number, as their shores are usually closest to the frail migrant boats rescued by NGOs while attempting to cross over from Africa.

EU member states have thus far taken in 164 asylum seekers from Italy, out of a total of 88,000 who have reached the Italian shores this year alone, the French AFP news agency reported.

Figures by the UN's International Organization for Migration place the number of migrants who perished or disappeared while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year at 1,891.

Italy's hard line on migration leaves hundreds in limbo

rmt/fb (AFP, dpa)