Seventeen of the 58 migrants who were picked up at sea by the rescue ship Aquarius at the end of September have now arrived in France. They have been taken in by four departments in the country’s east.
At 9.20am on Tuesday morning, 17 migrants from Libya (three families), Pakistan, Sudan and Ivory Coast, landed at Charles de Gaulle international airport in Paris. Despite the fatigue, "they’re very happy and relieved to be here," Didier Leschi, the director general of the French Immigration and Integration Office (Ofii), told InfoMigrants. Ofii agents had been at the airport to greet and accompany the migrants upon their arrival to their new homeland.
The migrants, which included four children, had been flown from Malta where the Aquarius rescue ship had been allowed to dock after spending almost a week sailing off the tiny Mediterranean island’s coast amid a bitter tug-a-war between EU countries about who should take them in. In the end, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal agreed to receive them.
Prior to their arrival in France, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) had conducted interviews with the 17 France-destined migrants in Malta to ensure they would qualify for French asylum.
Refugee status to be granted ‘this month’
Didier Leschi said that following their arrival, the procedure was for the migrants to be accompanied to the asylum seeking reception center (CADA) that had been allotted to them in regard to "the number of places available and their family composition". The eastern departments of Aube, Haute-Marne, Vosges and Yonne have agreed to receive them.
"They will then be directed to a ‘single window’ [to apply for asylum]. They should obtain their refugee status very quickly, most likely in a month’s time because Ofpra has already pre-ruled on their cases in Malta," Didier Leschi said.
Didier Leschi said that this was "the sixth operation of this kind since the beginning of the summer". In total, 280 migrants have arrived in France since Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini decided to shut his country’s ports to humanitarian rescue ships like Aquarius.
On Saturday, several thousand people took to the streets of France and other European countries to protest against nationalist policies that are preventing humanitarian vessels from rescuing migrants.
In late September, Italian authorities pressured Panama to revoke the Aquarius’s registration, meaning that once it docked it would be 'de-flagged' and not have the right to sail until it has a new registration. The ship is now docked in the southern French port city of Marseille until further notice.
There are currently only two humanitarian rescue ships patrolling the Mediterranean, the Astral and the Mare Jonio.