The charity SOS Mediterranee is urgently seeking a port to disembark 460 people rescued from the Central Mediterranean in ten different operations last week. Close to 1,000 people are reported missing in the Central Mediterranean so far this year.
A nurse on board the Ocean Viking search-and-rescue (SAR) vessel, identified only as Rebecca, said the ship's four-person medical team is overwhelmed with serious issues, including "severe" skin infections and chronic diseases which could not be supported on board.
The nurse said her team had to establish an additional triage point to determine the most urgent cases. She also stressed that the heat and the sun were "compromising [the migrants'] health even further."
"Among the 460 women, children & men onboard, many need further medical & psychological care on land,'' SOS Mediterranee tweeted on Wednesday (August 31).
The European charity says it has requested ports of safety in Malta and Italy, but has not received a response thus far. The migrants were rescued from Thursday to Saturday last week. Laurence Bondard, an SOS Mediterranee spokesperson, told news agency dpa the ship can only be "a temporary shelter. It is extremely difficult for the survivors to stay on deck, under stifling heat.''
On Monday (August 29), six people were evacuated by the Italian coast guard, including two pregnant women along with a 3-week-old infant girl.
According to SOS Mediterranee, the rescued migrants are mostly from Bangladesh and Egypt, and include 80 minors, most of whom are unaccompanied. "Nine of the ten boats found in distress departed from Libya," Bondard told InfoMigrants, adding that survivors reported they had spent up to three days at sea before being rescued.
Read more: Two migrants dead, 19 missing after shipwreck off Libya
Sea rescue NGOs face difficult time
Migration has been a central issue in Italy's current election campaign, especially for the right-wing parties, which are campaigning against aid organizations' search-and-rescue (SAR) operations and want to prevent landings of boats with migrants.
Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing League, has accused MSF of cooperating with smugglers.
Polls suggest that an alliance of conservative and right-wing parties could win the parliamentary elections on September 25, which could have significant consequences for the operations of the NGO groups.
Read more: Italy: Pushback against anti-migration 'naval blockade' proposal by far-right candidate
The Central Mediterranean route from northern Africa to Europe is among the deadliest migration routes in the world.
Last year, more than 1,500 people drowned while trying to reach European shores. There is no state-run sea rescue mission in the Mediterranean. Instead, NGO vessels like the Ocean Viking conduct search-and-rescue missions to save migrants in distress. It often takes several days or longer until Italian authorities assign the vessel a port.
Unless an NGO vessel finds them first, migrants trying to leave Libya for Europe are usually intercepted and returned by Libyan authorities to Libya, where they often face torture, abuse and death.
In late June, UN investigators reaffirmed previous reports about migrants and refugees detained in Libya facing serious abuse, with women especially being subjected to sexual violence.
Read more: Migrants accuse EU of facilitating abuse in Libya after interceptions at sea