PARIS (AP) — France will take in passengers from a migrant rescue ship who have been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea for more than two weeks after Italy refused them entry, the country’s interior minister said Thursday.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said France would welcome some 230 Ocean Viking passengers at the military port in the city of Toulon on Friday. Darmanin said the passengers subsequently would be divided among France, Germany and other European countries.
The French coast guard started a medical evacuation earlier from the migrant rescue ship, whose crew headed to Corsica on Wednesday in hopes French authorities would offer its passengers a safe port.
“All measures will be taken to bring health and medical assistance necessary to the passengers” and to carry out security controls, Darmanin told reporters in Paris following the government’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
Operated by the European charity group SOS Mediterranee, the migrant ship became the cause of a diplomatic rift after Italian Premier Giorgia Melon, under pressure from other European countries, granted three other private maritime rescue ships permission to dock in Italy.
Meloni then jumped the gun and announced that France had agreed to accept the Ocean Viking, even though the French government had made no such pledge publicly.
Her announcement and Italy’s persistent refusal to disembark migrants from the ship infuriated French officials. Darmanin could barely contain the French anger against the government in Rome.
He slammed Italy’s response to the charity-operated boats as “unacceptable” and said Italy’s refusal to assign a port to the Ocean Viking was “incomprehensible.”
“France will take measures in the coming hours to tighten the border security with Italy” and adjust bilateral relations accordingly, Darmanin said. He added: “France deeply regrets that Italy did not accept to behave like a responsible European state.”
“Managing migratory flows in the Mediterranean is a European problem that touches all of us, calling for a European response,” Darmanin said.