The southern French port city of Marseille has declared itself “ready to welcome” the migrant rescue ship Alan Kurdi when it arrives. On Wednesday the ship’s crew said it was heading for France after being refused entry by Italy and Malta.
Marseille's local politicians have responded to Wednesday's announcement by Sea-Eye that migrant rescue ship Alan Kurdi would set a new course for Marseille. Sea-Eye is the German NGO operating the Alan Kurdi.
Marseille's first deputy mayor, Benoit Payan, who is filling in for the mayor of Marseille during her absence on health grounds, tweeted that "if the Alan Kurdi wants to come to Marseille, we reiterate the position that we will not let anyone drown in the Mediterranean."
Payan, a member of France's Socialist party (PS), was reiterating what the Green party mayor of Marseille, Michèle Rubirola, already declared at the end of August, that "Marseille was a city of welcome and solidarity and it would open its ports."
'Proud of Marseille's history of welcome'
At the time, Rubirola called on French President Emmanuel Macron to save those dying in the Mediterranean and for the French state to "take on its responsibilities."
Acting mayor Payan said that Marseille was proud of its history of welcome and it would not let people founder between life and death in the Mediterranean.
According to the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP), the city of Marseille declared it would "unconditionally" accept the migrant rescue ship turned away by Italy. However, it is not the decision of city’s alone and the French government will also have a say in whether or not to take on the 125 migrants on board the Alan Kurdi.
The French government issued a statement to AFP saying that they believed the Alan Kurdi is still “Italy’s responsibility to host the vessel as the nearest safe port of call.”
The dispute comes just a day after the EU’s new solidarity pact for migrants was launched. In a statement reacting to the pact, the French interior ministry said it supported the pact and "saluted the European Commission for its proposition."
The ministry's statement went on to say that French migration policy was based on a "fair balance between responsibility and solidarity," and that it supported the countries of first entry like Malta and Italy and was "honored" to participate in the sharing out mechanism of some of the migrants who arrive on their shores.
French government: Nearest port is not France
AFP reported that French government spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, clarified that the Alan Kurdi "must be welcomed in the safest, closest port. It is the rule that we will continue to apply with our European partners." In this case, Attal added, "that port would not be in France." However, Attal said that France would "not abandon people in distress and would ‘continue to play its part in the reception [of migrants]."
Later on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said that the solidarity they had shown to Italy "over the last two years" needed to be reciprocated and that Italy should be the one to accept the Alan Kurdi. "We therefore request Italy to respond favorably to the request made by the NGO to dock in the nearest safe port," reported AFP.
Working to find a solution
The French government said they were working hard with Italy and all European partners "in line with these principles," and that "a solution will be found and the NGO must respect it."
It remains to be seen what will happen, if and when the Alan Kurdi arrives in Marseille. According to France 24, the local head of the maritime police in the city said it would be up to the national government to decide whether or not the migrants on board the ship would be allowed to disembark.
The crew on board the Alan Kurdi have already said that they will continue to request a safe port en route to Marseille, where they will be passing the coasts of the Italian island of Sardinia, as well as the French island of Corsica before they finally near the southern coast of the French mainland.
On Thursday, Italian state broadcaster Rai News reported that the Alan Kurdi had arrived near the island of Sardinia and requested a mooring to shelter from expected bad weather with Mistral winds blowing up to 50 miles per hour. Rai said the the harbor master at Arbatax on Sardinia's east central coast had granted a mooring off the island of Ogliastra, just off shore for the next three to four days until the expected storms pass.