A rescue ship carrying 230 migrants docked at the French port of Toulon on Friday, maritime authorities said, amid a French-Italian row over which country is responsible for them.
The Ocean Viking, operated by a French NGO, had picked up the migrants at sea near the Libyan coast before spending weeks seeking a port to accept them.
The ship docked at 8:50 am (0750 GMT).
France had never before allowed a rescue vessel carrying migrants from the Mediterranean to land on its coast, but did so this time because Italy had refused access.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Thursday that the migrants were Italy’s responsibility under EU rules, and that the French move was an “exceptional” measure that would not guide future action.
He said Italy’s refusal to accept the migrants was “incomprehensible” and that there would be “severe consequences” for Italy’s bilateral relations with France and with the EU as a whole.
He said France had acted according to its “humanitarian duty”.
The Ocean Viking ship had 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 must shoulder more of the burden for taking in the thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa every year.
A French doctor boarded the ship before it docked, Meryl Sotty, a spokesperson for its operator SOS Mediterranee, told AFP.
The doctor was to identify the most vulnerable members of the migrant group who would be brought on land first, followed by women, children and families, she said.
The migrants, more than 50 of whom are children, are to be placed in an international waiting zone pending processing of requests for asylum.
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