PARIS — The first group of migrants from a private rescue boat that Malta agreed to let dock only if they were divided among several countries left for France Thursday aboard a commercial flight.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb welcomed the arrival of 52 refugees who had been among 234 people who reached Malta last week aboard the Lifeline.
Malta and Italy had initially denied safe harbor to the Lifeline, which had carried out rescues in the Mediterranean off Libya, where migrant-smugglers are based. After a standoff, Malta let the boat dock but only if other countries offered to take a share of the migrants. Italy, six other EU countries and Norway agreed, while Malta was to keep some of them.
Collomb said the operation "shows France's very concrete solidarity with its European neighbors in the front line for sea arrivals" of migrants.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted Thursday that the migrants had departed for France as part of what he as described an "ad hoc agreement between nine countries" on "responsibility-sharing."
A statement issued by the French interior ministry said those arriving in France had been identified by French authorities as needing asylum. In France, they will be given housing and lessons in the French language and values as part of integration efforts.