A diplomatic row has erupted between France and Italy over the fate of 230 people aboard a maritime rescue vessel which docked in southern France.

The passengers of the Ocean Viking arrived at the port of Toulon, in the Var, where they had to undergo health and safety checks, an official said.

Some 57 children, including the youngest, aged three, were among those on board from countries including Eritrea, Egypt, Syria, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

More than 40 are unaccompanied minors, according to European rescue group SOS Méditerranée, which operates the ship.

Some people have been at sea since their rescue in the Mediterranean Sea three weeks ago, the organization said.

The French coast guard boarded the Ocean Viking on Thursday to help four people in need of urgent medical attention.

But the dispute erupted after the new Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Melonrefused to allow the Ocean Viking to dock in Italy – despite granting permission to three other private sea rescue vessels.

Learn more about migrant crossings

Ms Meloni claimed France would take the ship – before Paris confirmed it publicly.

France agreed on Thursday to offer a safe harbor to the Ocean Viking.

Image:
French coast guard helps migrants evacuate humanitarian ship Ocean Viking Pic: AP

The refugees on board will be sent to France and other EU countries under a ‘solidarity’ mechanism approved in June in a bid to reduce pressure on frontline countries such as Greece, the United States. Italy and Spain.

But French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin slammed Italy’s response as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘incomprehensible’ and has now announced that France will withdraw from the voluntary asylum-seeker sharing scheme following of the Italian government’s response.

France is now set to impose border controls between Italy, Mr Darmanin said.

The arrival of the Ocean Viking also sparked fury from far-right politicians in France who criticized the president Emmanuel Macron for what they called his “open arms immigration policies”.

A child pictured playing in a box on Ocean Viking Pic: AP
Image:
A child pictured playing in a box on Ocean Viking Pic: AP

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, France’s biggest opposition party, said immigration to the country is “not an unconditional right”.

“The French want a much tougher stance against migration.”

He said the government’s immigration policies were “out of control”, adding: “Enough is enough”.

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‘Get under control’ the migrant crisis, says Sunak

Earlier this week, Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer said if he became Prime Minister he would “work upstream” with President Macron to prevent smugglers from undertaking Channel crossings.

current PM Rishi Sunak discussed the migrant crisis with his French counterpart when the duo came face to face for the first time in Egypt to COP27.

Ahead of the annual climate summit, Mr Sunak told the Sun newspaper that solving the problem of small boats crossing the English Channel was a “key priority”.

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