France to deport 44 migrants rescued in Ocean Viking operation

© AFP/Christophe Simon

France has rejected asylum applications from 44 of the 234 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the emergency vessel Ocean Viking. They will be returned to their country of origin, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Tuesday. The fate of others is still to be decided.

The ship was allowed to land 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, interior minister Gérald Darmanin said the 44 migrants whose asylum demands have been rejected will be deported "as soon as their health allows". Others could also be sent home as more asylum claims are examined.

The 60 people who can apply for asylum will be shared between 11 European countries, Darmanin added.

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

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

But Italy, under its new far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, wants other European Union 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.

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