The United Nations refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments on Tuesday, August 13th, to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries disagreed over who should take responsibility in this case.
The people rescued while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups, which the Italian government has banned from its territory. The archipelago nation of Malta has refused to let the ships into the country's ports.
"This is a race against time," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said in a statement. "Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse."
It remains unclear at this stage where the rescued migrants might find safe harbour, with the Italian island of Lampedusa being located closest but included under the ban from Italy’s interior ministry, according to AP. About 150 of the rescued passengers have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship, the Open Arms, since they were rescued from the Mediterranean 13 days ago.
The agency said many of the people onboard the ships "are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya." Cochetel said the ships "must be immediately allowed to dock" and their passengers "allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid."
The EU's executive commission said it has urged European Union member countries to take action to resolve the status of the recently rescued passengers and stands ready to offer national governments support but cannot act alone.
"There's nothing more we can do," a European Commission spokeswoman said on Tuesday.