In a video on Twitter, the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, defended the role of NGOs in providing assistance to migrants in the Mediterranean. "The NGOs play an essential role in providing aid to migrants, on this there is no doubt," Castaner said.
The controversy arose after the association SOS Méditerranée asked Castaner to "re-establish the facts" about NGOs that rescue migrants at sea, following statements at last week's G7 interior ministers meeting that some NGOs could be "accomplices" to human traffickers.
On Friday, Castaner was with his Italian counterpart, Matteo Salvini, and other interior ministers attending a G7 meeting in Paris, when he said that in some cases there was "undoubtedly a certain collusion" with traffickers on the part of NGOs, and that "the NGOs in these cases were accomplices".
SOS Méditerranée strongly criticised the statements in a letter, saying they were based on "rumors" and "serious accusations" that had never been "demonstrated or confirmed with even the smallest proof."
'No ambiguity in my words'
"I want to be very clear," Castaner responded: "First, my words on the role of NGOs in saving lives doesn't suffer from any ambiguity. I never put the NGOs' sincerity into question, as I am certain of it.
"Second, it is documented that there have been, in some cases, interactions between traffickers and some NGOs. I'm not making up these facts. They are available to the 28 member states and come from, in particular, two Frontex reports in November and December 2016. They are based on factual observations.
"Third, what I said, above all, but that wasn't taken up, perhaps because it's less seductive during an electoral period, is that our only enemies, our true enemies, are the traffickers, the traffickers and no one else," Castaner said. He added that this was the reason that he and his G7 counterparts had adopted "concrete commitments to fight the traffickers."