France has said it will deport 44 asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean by an NGO rescue ship it accepted after Italy banned the boat from landing last week.
The Ocean Viking rescue ship was carrying 234 people in total, including 57 children. As well as France, Germany took one third and the rest were taken by other European countries.
The boat was in Italy’s research and rescue zone, France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said at the time: “France very deeply regrets that Italy has decided not to behave like a responsible European state.”
According to international law, people in danger at sea should be rescued and allowed to disembark at the nearest safe port.
The Ocean Viking and Italy were locked in a standoff for three weeks with Rome ignoring 46 requests from the NGO.
In retaliation, Paris has abandoned a deal with Rome to take in more than 3,000 asylum seekers as part of an EU deal to relocate 8,000 refugees from countries they first arrived in.
“It is clear that there will be extremely severe consequences for our bilateral relations,” said Darmanin.
At the beginning of November Rome allowed a German rescue ship to enter the port of Catania in Sicily and said it would only allow the children and vulnerable people to enter leaving the rest to be pushed back into international waters.
Italy’s new right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy Party has pledged to introduce hardline measures to block asylum seekers from North Africa.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi has called on countries to which the search and rescue boats belong, to take in refugees whilst Meloni has said that such vessels only encourage people to make the crossing.
Former far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini faces charges of kidnapping and abuse of powers after he prevented 147 people on board a search and rescue ship from disembarking in August 2019, keeping them in dire conditions.