Wednesday, 7 December, 2022
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Ship leaves French port after disembarking migrants

Ship leaves French port after disembarking migrants

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All migrants on board a rescue ship turned back by Italy have disembarked in France, authorities said Saturday, as the vessel left to undergo maintenance at another port.

The Ocean Viking, operated by a French NGO, will in a few weeks' time leave the other port in France to return to save more migrants in the Mediterranean.

The ship run by SOS Mediterranee had picked up more than 230 migrants at sea near the Libyan coast before spending weeks seeking a port to accept them.

France allowed the boat to dock at the southern port of Toulon on Friday after Rome denied it access.

French authorities said the last of the 230 passengers disembarked late Friday. Four others were evacuated by helicopter earlier in the week.

Of the passengers, 189 people -- including 23 women and 13 minors -- are now living in a holiday camp turned shelter on the Giens Peninsula some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the military port of Toulon.

The area has been designated a special "international waiting zone" that is not part of French territory and from which they are not allowed to leave until their request for asylum has been processed.

French authorities said all new arrivals had expressed the wish to seek asylum.

They will have to undergo security checks, including from French domestic intelligence, before they can be interviewed by the country's refugee agency OFPRA, whose representatives are expected to arrive on Saturday.

- 'Young teenagers' -

An additional passenger, the first let off the Ocean Viking on Friday, is being treated in a French hospital for poor health.

Another 44 unaccompanied minors -- most "young teenagers" -- have been handed over to French social services and are not staying at the Giens shelter, local official Evence Richard said.

Of all disembarked passengers, 175 are to leave France and head to 11 other countries.

Germany is to receive 80 migrants, while Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal and Romania are also to take in a share.

The Ocean Viking initially sought access to Italy's coast, which is closest to where the migrants were picked up, saying health and sanitary conditions onboard were rapidly worsening.

Italy refused, saying other nations needed to shoulder more of the burden for taking in the thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa every year.

SOS Mediteranee's operations director Xavier Lauth on Friday said the Ocean Viking would resume its rescue missions after leaving Toulon.

The UN's International Organization for Migration says 1,891 migrants have died or disappeared so far this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life in Europe.

People smugglers often crowd migrants into unseaworthy dinghies.