Row erupts between France and Italy over who should take 230 migrants rescued from Mediterranean Sea

A diplomatic row has erupted between France and Italy over the fate of 230 people on board a maritime rescue ship which docked in southern France.

Passengers on the Ocean Viking arrived at the port of Toulon, in the Var region, where they were expected to undergo health and security checks, an official said.

Some 57 children including the youngest, aged three, were among the people on board from nations including Eritrea, Egypt, Syrian, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

More than 40 are unaccompanied minors, according to European rescue group SOS Mediterranee, which operates the vessel.

Some people have been at sea since they were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea three weeks ago, the organisation said.

The French coastguard boarded the Ocean Viking on Thursday to help four people requiring urgent medical attention.

But the row erupted after new Italian premier, Giorgia Meloni, refused to allow the Ocean Viking to dock in Italy - despite granting three other private maritime rescue ships permission.

Ms Meloni claimed France would take the vessel - before Paris had confirmed this publicly.

France agreed to offer a safe port to the Ocean Viking on Thursday.

Refugees on board will be sent to France and other EU countries as part of a "solidarity" mechanism approved in June in a bid to reduce pressure on front-line countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain.

But French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin criticised Italy's response as "unacceptable" and "incomprehensible" and has now announced France will withdraw from the voluntary scheme for sharing asylum seekers as a result of the Italian government's response.

France is now set to impose border checks between Italy, Mr Darmanin said.

The arrival of the Ocean Viking has also ignited fury among far-right politicians in France who slammed President Emmanuel Macron for what they called his "open-arms immigration policies".

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, the largest opposition party in France, said immigration to the country is "not an unconditional right".

"The French people want a much tougher stand against migration."

He said the government's immigration policies were "out of control", adding: "Enough is enough".

Earlier this week, leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer said, if he becomes prime minister, he would "work upstream" with President Macron to stop people smugglers from initiating Channel crossings.

Current PM Rishi Sunak raised the migrant crisis with his French counterpart when the pair came face to face for the first time in Egypt for COP27.

Ahead of the annual climate summit, Mr Sunak told the Sun newspaper it was a "key priority" to resolve the issue of small boats crossing the Channel.