ANSA/Italy-France row over Ocean Viking escalates

ROME, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Thursday that Paris has suspended plans to take in 3,500 refugees currently in Italy and called on “all the participants” in the EU’s migrant relocation mechanism to adopt similar measures after Rome refused to assign a port of safety to the Ocean Viking.


Darmanin called on “Germany in particular” to suspend the relocation of asylum seekers from Italy.


Darmanin said that Italy’s decision not to assign a port of safety to the Ocean Viking was “incomprehensible” and announced that Paris would allow the NGO-run search-and-rescue (SAR) ship to dock in Toulon on Friday.


He added that a third of the 234 asylum seekers on board the ship would be “relocated” in France.


The Ocean Viking, which is run by French NGO SOS Méditerranée, headed to France after Italy ignored its appeals to be assigned a port of safety for three weeks.


“It is clear that there will be extremely serious consequences for our bilateral relations,” said Darmanin Premier Giorgia Meloni’s new government has adopted a tough stance on NGO-run SAR ships, telling them to stay out of Italian waters.


In the case of two other ships, the Humanity 1 and the Geo Barents, the government initially only allowed people considered vulnerable to disembark after they docked in the port of Catania at the weekend.


On Tuesday Italian health authorities ordered that the remaining 250-odd people also be let off the ships, a decision Meloni blasted as “bizarre”.


Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Thursday said migrant crossings from North Africa to Italy must be stopped and Italy would propose a plan for North Africa to stop migrant trafficking from countries and boost their economic development so that would-be migrants can stay at home. Piantedosi said the discovery of the body of a child on a small boat off Lampedusa “unfortunately testifies that the crossings must be interrupted as soon as possible.


“Very often it is misunderstood that all the action, deployed by several parties, to try to stop this trafficking is oriented by no one knows what, in reality it is because this situation is not sustainable.


“We will concretize the action we are planning as a government to propose a plan for North Africa and above all to intensify relations with those countries to collaborate with them to stop this trafficking, supporting them in their economic development”, Piantedosi added.


Piantedosi called the French reaction to the migrant rescue boat spat with Italy “totally incomprehensible.


“The reaction that France is having in the face of the request to welcome 234 migrants – when Italy has welcomed 90,000 only this year – is totally incomprehensible in the face of the continuous calls for solidarity due to these people. But it also shows how firm and determined the posture of other nations in the face of illegal immigration is. What we don’t understand is why Italy should willingly accept something that others are not willing to accept,” said Piantedosi.


He added, after French Interior Minister Darmanin announced the reaction: “European solidarity is trumpeted but Italy has so far faced this problem alone and our reception system is in serious difficulty.


“It is therefore clear,” he explained, “that Italy will not be able to give its adherence to solutions for a European Pact not adequately balanced between solidarity and responsibility measures.


“The countries of first entry cannot, in fact, alone bear the burden of exclusive responsibility for the management of flows”.


For this reason, he added, “we continue to maintain that the most serious solution is to work together to stop departures from North Africa”.


Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Paris’s reaction had been “disproportionate”.


Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, who operated a controversial closed door policy to NGO ships during a stint as interior minister in 2018-19, said sarcastically: “European solidarity…” over a screenshot of the news of the blockade requested by France of all EU countries.


Cabinet Secretary Giovanbattista Fazzolari said that Paris’s reaction was giving a very bad image of France when Paris has made less than 40 such relocations this year and very many migrants have entered Italy.


“The statements of French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin are giving a very bad image of France, certainly not of Italy: they invite not to respect the relocations but France this year has relocated 38 people and is essentially saying that Italy must accept a situation of illegality and that is to welcome without any reason all the NGO ships that arrive because France cannot take them”, Fazzolari said.


He said “this totally disjointed behavior of France leaves us a little perplexed; in these days hundreds of other people have landed in Italy”.


A 20-day-old baby boy was found dead on a migrant boat by Italian coast guards overnight after they came to the rescue of the vessel in waters near the island of Lampedusa.


The child, who was travelling with his 19-year-old mother from Ivory Coast, suffered respiratory problems and the family were trying to get to Italy for him to have treatment, sources said.


A doctor examined the corpse, found no signs of violence and concluded that the death was caused by hypothermia combined with the fragile condition of the baby, the sources said. The boy died at around 19:00 on Wednesday.


The boat, which had 36 people on board, including nine women and two minors, had departed from Mahres in Tunisia at about 4am.


The child’s father was not on the boat as he has remained in Tunisia. Italian prosecutors have given the all-clear for the body to be buried.


Source: ANSA News Agency