France to deport 44 of 234 migrants rescued by ship in Italy row

© Thomas Coex, AFP

France has rejected asylum applications from 44 of the 234 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the Ocean Viking NGO ship, who will be returned to their country of origin, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Tuesday.

The ship was allowed to disembark at the French port of Toulon last Friday after Italy refused access to its ports, sparking a diplomatic row over how to handle the thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa each year.

Speaking in parliament, Darmanin said the 44 migrants will be deported "as soon as their health allows," adding that others could also be sent home as more asylum claims are examined.

France had never before allowed a rescue vessel carrying migrants from the Mediterranean to land on its coast, but did so this time because Italy had refused access.

The French government said under international maritime law, the Ocean Viking with its passengers in distress should have been granted access to the nearest ports.

But Italy, under its new far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, wants other EU nations to shoulder more of the burden, and appears ready to force the issue to the top of the European agenda.

In retaliation for Italy's stance, France suspended a plan to take 3,500 refugees currently in Italy, part of a European distribution accord, and urged Germany and other EU nations to do the same.

(AFP)


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