France accepts migrant rescue ship rejected by Italy as tensions flare
A weeks-long ordeal for asylum seekers who had been stranded at sea concluded on Friday, as the French government granted safe harbor for the Ocean Viking rescue ship in the southern city of Toulon.
But it was not the end of the fight between French officials and Italy’s new right-wing government, which had earlier refused to let the ship anchor. And there could be bigger rifts to come as new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni follows through on campaign pledges to adopt a hard line on illegal immigration, reviving an issue the European Union has never fully resolved. The more than 230 people on the Ocean Viking, including over 50 children, were rescued by the nonprofit SOS Mediterranee in mid- to late October while trying to cross the Mediterranean in smaller vessels.
Marine Le Pen’s far-right party called for a special commission in the European Parliament to investigate possible links between smugglers and NGOs that rescue immigrants in distress. Officials in Paris appeared mindful of the domestic far-right criticism this week, choosing the optics of a military port as the ship’s destination, publicizing that arrivals would be interviewed by the counterterrorism security service and vowing to swiftly deport anyone who does not meet asylum or residency criteria. Two-thirds of the people on board will be transferred to other host countries. The E.U. has been unable to agree on a comprehensive plan for addressing immigration, instead putting together a fragile patchwork of rules and more informal commitments to redistribute immigrants within the 27-country bloc.
France’s earlier agreement to take at least 3,000 people from Italy was part of an effort “to provide Italy with guarantees” and to make progress on negotiations that had stalled because of resistance from Hungary and Poland, said French immigration researcher Matthieu Tardis. “Now, everything is being called into question.” The tensions also bode ill for broader Franco-Italian relations, which had blossomed under Draghi to such an extent that some hoped they would become a new centerpiece of European politics. A meeting last month between Macron and newly elected Meloni suggested that they might be able to build a solid working relationship, despite their political differences.
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