Norway’s foreign ministry said Saturday that the country would take in 20 of the migrants rescued by the Ocean Viking NGO, who disembarked in France after Italy blocked access to its ports.
The Ocean Viking, a Norwegian-flagged vessel operated by a French NGO, had picked up 234 migrants at sea near the Libyan coast before spending weeks seeking a port to accept them.
After pleading for days to be allowed to dock in Italy, the Ocean Viking was allowed to dock at the French port of Toulon earlier in November in what the French government called an “exceptional” decision.
Around 40 minors have been placed in social care, while 189 adults were brought to a retention centre to evaluate the validity of their asylum requests, a French interior ministry official said Friday.
Of the adults, 123 people did not provide sufficient proof to back up their claims and were denied entry, the official added.
The 66 others are set to be transferred to 11 other EU nations, including Germany, Finland and Portugal, which have agreed to take them in under a voluntary scheme that Italy wants to be made compulsory for all EU members.
Despite not being an EU member, Norway’s foreign ministry said Saturday it would accept 20 of the migrants.
“We want to underline that Norway has no responsibility for taking any of these migrants to Norway. The government has made this extraordinary decision in response to a request received from France to help in a difficult situation,” a ministry spokeswoman told AFP in an email.
The spokeswoman added that those received were people “with a high probability of filling the criteria for refugee status,” and that “unaccompanied minor asylum seekers are precluded from transfer, in order to avoid encouraging this particular migration”.
The standoff between France and Italy rekindled the EU immigration debate and heightened tensions between France and Italy’s new far-right government under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Under international maritime law, vessels in distress must be granted access to the nearest port, which means Italy takes in a much larger share than its EU neighbours of the migrants rescued while trying to cross from North Africa.
Meloni’s government says it has already taken in 90,000 migrants so far this year, and said its refusal to aid the Ocean Viking was a signal to the EU that it needs a new burden-sharing system to spread migrants more fairly across the bloc.