Twenty-six of the 44 migrants who were rescued by the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking have “run away” from the reception facilities provided by the Var departmental council. The statement issued by the council stated: “This Thursday, November 17, the public prosecutor was informed that 26 minors had run away.”
Jean-Louis Masson, the LR president of the department, told Le Figaro on Thursday: “Three of the 44 minors had already run away the day after they were taken into care, and on Thursday morning that makes 23 more minors missing.”
Christophe Paquette, deputy director general in charge of solidarity at the Var departmental council, told AFP: “This was foreseeable for us.”
Most of the 26 minors were Eritreans who, according to him, “never stay” because “they have specific objectives in northern European countries” such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland or Germany, where they want to join their families or relatives.
These migrants, considered as minors, were not in a closed waiting area, unlike the 190 or so other adults who docked in Toulon on Friday after two weeks of wandering in the Mediterranean on board the Ocean Viking.
Mr Paquette added: “Our mission is to protect them and not to detain them.”
He also stressed that the department had “reported their departure” after “trying to dissuade them”
Paquette also insisted that the minors who ran away “behaved in an exemplary manner, they left thanking us”.
Toulon public prosecutor Samuel Finielz told reporters: “The phenomenon of unaccompanied minors running away is frequent, for many reasons, family ties in another European country for instance.”
He added: “Providing shelter is a phase of child protection which cannot be considered as confinement.”
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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who was elected promising to stop the flow of migrants between Africa and Italy, responded by describing Paris’ reaction as “incomprehensible and unjustified”.
The row, however, settled down on Monday after talks between Italian and French presidents Sergio Mattarella and Emmanuel Macron.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega