More than two dozen unaccompanied underage migrants aboard the controversial Ocean Viking refugee rescue ship have gone missing from their reception center, authorities said on Thursday.
The council in the southern Var department, according to reports, said the public prosecutor had been told that 26 of 44 minors under full legal age at the center had run away.
“Three of the 44 minors had already run away… after being taken into care”, the department’s president Jean-Louis Masson was quoted as saying by Le Figaro newspaper.
“On Thursday morning there were 23 more minors missing”, he added.
Six days ago, after Italy refused to accept more than 200 migrants, France allowed the charity ship carrying the refugees to dock at the Mediterranean dock in the port of Toulon, in the Var region.
The action caused a dispute between the two countries, with the far-right parties in France accusing the government of being soft on immigrants.
The Var department said the children who left the place were mostly Eritreans who preferred to join their relatives and acquaintances in other European countries, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany.
It is said that these children were not in prison and were free and could go wherever they wanted.
The adults on board the ship are being handled by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), held at a social services facility, and are not being allowed to leave.
The prefecture said social services will continue to provide temporary shelter, medical care and schooling for other Ocean Viking minors in care.
Last week, the Var region prefect said the migrants will be sent to a detention center where they will be given medical care and their asylum applications will be processed.
Those who do not qualify for residency must be sent back to their home countries.