After Spat with Italy, France Takes in Migrant Ship

France has resolved a dayslong spat with Italy’s right-wing government by agreeing to take in a ship carrying more than 200 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. The Ocean Viking is due to dock in the southern French port of Toulon on Friday — but relations with Rome remain bitter.

For the 234 migrants aboard the Ocean Viking, France’s agreement to take them in was the end of long odyssey.

They hail from a mix of countries, including Bangladesh, Syria and Eritrea. And they count among hundreds rescued from the Mediterranean in late October by NGO SOS Mediterranee and the Red Cross.

Italian officials finally allowed three boatloads to disembark, but not the Ocean Viking.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called Rome’s behavior “unacceptable” and warned there would be ‘strong consequences’ in bilateral relations. France and Germany are expected to each welcome one-third of those onboard. The rest will reportedly be shared among other European Union member states.

Questions over fairly sharing asylum seekers — many arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean — aren’t new. For years, front-line countries like Italy and Greece have demanded that other EU members take in more. But tensions have sharpened since Prime Minister Georgia Meloni came to power in Italy.

In France, the main opposition, the anti-immigrant far-right National Rally Party also opposed letting Ocean Viking’s migrants ashore. It would make France a suction pump for immigration, said party president Jordan Bardella. It would be unending.

The several hundred thousand non-European asylum-seekers who have arrived in the EU this year dwarf the more than a million who surged into the bloc in 2015. But that number doesn’t include the more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees who have been granted automatic asylum in the EU.

Reports suggest migrant shelters in places such as Brussels — the EU’s de facto capital — are packed, with Ukrainians getting priority.

Lorena Martini, who specializes in migration at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, says the Ukraine crisis should galvanize more European solidarity toward asylum-seekers from elsewhere. Some countries that once shunned migrants.

Some fear Europe’s welcome mat for Ukrainians might disappear, as well, as winter sets in, possibly driving a new refugee influx westward. 

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