Marseille official says ready to welcome migrant boat heading for France

The "Alan Kurdi" sails off the Libyan coast in a handout picture taken by German migrant rescue NGO Sea-Eye.
The "Alan Kurdi" sails off the Libyan coast in a handout picture taken by German migrant rescue NGO Sea-Eye. © Joris Grahl, AFP

The deputy mayor of Marseille said the southern French city would welcome the Alan Kurdi after the NGO-run rescue boat announced on Wednesday that it was sailing to France with 125 migrants on board.


"If the Alan Kurdi says it wants to come to Marseille, then we will reiterate our position: that we won't let people drown in the Mediterranean," said Benoît Payan, the deputy mayor, who is filling in for Mayor Michèle Rubirola during her absence on health grounds.

Earlier on Wednesday, the German-based aid organisation Sea-Eye said the Alan Kurdi was travelling to Marseille as fast as possible after it was turned away by Italian authorities.

"In order to avoid a long and stressful crossing, we must request for an immediate disembarkation for all of rescued people within the next hours," said Jan Ribbeck, head of operations at Sea-Eye.

The ship, named after the Syrian boy who made global headlines when he drowned and his body washed up on the shores of Turkey in 2015, rescued 133 people, including 62 children, from three different boats off the Libyan coast on Saturday. 

Italian coast guards removed two women, one man and five children, with the youngest being five months old.

However, "so far no country wants to take responsibility for the 125 people on board", the organisation said.

Sea-Eye informed maritime rescue centres in Italy, Malta, Germany and France, as well as the German foreign ministry, of their request for a safe port but none replied, it said.

"The inaction of the Italian and German authorities forces us to take this step," said Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler. 

It is not clear whether the Alan Kurdi will be able to dock in Marseille, where the newly-elected leftwing administration has adopted a welcoming stance regarding migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

Speaking shortly after the deputy mayor, the local head of maritime police said it was up to the central government in Paris to decide whether the rescue boat would be allowed in.

More than 600 migrants have perished this year while attempting the Mediterranean crossing, the deadliest route for those hoping for a better life in Europe.

Almost 50,000 have made the journey so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)


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