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EU - MIGRANTS

Half of Aquarius migrants want to seek asylum in France

Jose Jordan, AFP | The Aquarius arrived in Valencia on Sunday 17th June with hundreds of migrants on board.

Almost half of the 630 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean who arrived at Spain's port of Valencia at the weekend want to seek asylum in France, the Spanish government said Monday.

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The migrants arrived in Spain on Sunday in three vessels, including the rescue ship Aquarius, after being turned away by Italy and Malta last week.

The majority of the 630 migrants are from Africa, including 450 men and 80 women, of which at least seven are pregnant, as well as 89 adolescents and 11 children under the age of 13, according to the Valencian authorities.

France has said it will work with Spain to deal with asylum applications.

"Almost half the migrants have shown their willingness to seek asylum in France, which offered to welcome some of the people travelling on the ship," Spain's new socialist government said in a statement.

Pascal Brice, director-general of France's refugee protection office Ofpra, told AFP that one of his teams would travel to Valencia soon.

"As soon as the Spanish authorities have informed us of the number of people concerned, a team from Ofpra will go on site to conduct the interviews and ensure that people are covered by the right to asylum," he said, adding that the process should take place this week.

Majority of French reject safe harbour

However, a recent poll released on Monday shows that the majority of French citizens support the government's decision not to offer safe harbour to the ship carrying the rescued migrants after Italy refused to let it dock.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they backed the government, while 42 percent said it should have offered to let the ship dock, according to the OpinionWay poll.

Local leaders on the French island of Corsica had offered to welcome the Aquarius, but the move was slapped down by the central government, which argued that under international law the ship had to dock at the closest port.

Tensions flared after French President Emmanuel Macron accused Rome of "irresponsibility", although he later said he had not meant to offend France's southern neighbour.

Macron is under pressure to close down migration routes from Africa amid strong anti-immigration sentiment in his country.

France has said it will examine asylum requests from Aquarius migrants who want to come over from Spain on a "case-by-case basis", government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Sunday, although he did not know how many might make the requests.

Rome's decision put the migrant influx back to the fore ahead of a EU summit on June 28-29, where leaders are supposed to hammer out an overhaul of the bloc's asylum rules.

The OpinionWay poll was carried out among 1,020 adults online from June 13-15.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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