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France grants refugee status to 42 Aquarius migrants

The city of Lille has granted official refugee status to the 42 Sudanese migrants who arrived in the Nord after coming to Europe on humanitarian migrant ship the Aquarius.

The city (Hauts-de-France, Nord) celebrated the move on Friday August 3, in a ceremony that confirmed the recognition of the migrants by the French refugee office, l’Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides (OFPRA).

This status means that the migrants are legally allowed to remain in France, and obtain a ten-year resident card (carte de résident).

The mayor of the city, Martine Aubry, said: “France has decided to offer you refugee status. Today, for you, this is the end of a very long, painful, and extremely difficult journey, and we all hope it will be the start of a better life for you, through which we will accompany you.”

Ms Aubry added: “We know what you have lived through...You are here, you are now Lillois, and we are extremely happy to have you here among us.”

Assistant secretary-general of OFPRA, Anatole Puiseux, said: “This quick turnaround [in status] was possible because the office went to Spain to hear from the asylum seekers, who told us their reasons for leaving their own country. This allowed us to ‘pre-instruct’ their files.”

Regional district commissioner, Michel Lalande, said: “The France that welcomes you may appear strange...As well as those who would welcome you with open arms, there will also be those who close them. France is like that. But if you love her, France will know how to return that love.”

One refugee, a 25-year-old former biology student named Baher, told Le Monde newspaper: “I am very happy; this is a special day for me. I thank everyone. Coming to France was my dream for many reasons - the education, the country’s development, and the technology.”

The refugees are aged 18-32, and are currently being housed in a former old-age care home.

The Aquarius migrant rescue ship - belonging to non-governmental agencies Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Méditerranée - made headlines in June after it was refused permission to land by Italy and Malta.

It had 630 refugees on board, and became a symbol of the growing migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

It eventually docked in Valencia, Spain, with migrants sent to different European countries including France.

The ship then spent one month in Marseille for a technical check-up, before restarting rescue operations in the Mediterranean on August 1.

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