By Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak
ANKARA (AA) - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday urged European countries to take 507 rescued migrants who are currently stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.
"Many are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya and are from refugee-producing countries. They are in need of humanitarian assistance and some have already expressed an intention to seek international protection," UNHCR said in a statement.
"This is a race against time," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the Central Mediterranean adding that the condition of migrants is getting worse as storms approach.
"To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering. They must be immediately allowed to dock, and allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid," he said.
The UNHCR also urged European leaders to translate sentiments shown after the largest Mediterranean shipwreck of 2019 -- which claimed 150 lives -- into meaningful solidarity with people fleeing from Libya.
The statement also said that the Central Mediterranean route needed increased search and rescue efforts and that the role of watercraft operated by non-governmental organizations (NGO) to this end needed to be "acknowledged and supported."
"Their efforts are saving lives, and they should not be stigmatised nor criminalized," it added.
Italy recently passed legislation imposing fines of up to €1 million ($1.12 million) on NGO-run rescue vessels.
The Proactiva Open Arms -- a Spanish NGO-owned ship devoted to search and rescue at sea -- had rescued some 151 migrants in early August.
In addition, some 356 people have been rescued in recent days by the Ocean Viking, belonging to French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Tuesday said on Twitter that he would not allow migrants to disembark in Italy.
A total of 39,289 irregular migrants and refugees have reached Europe by sea since the beginning of 2019. As many as 840 died at sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.
More than 30,500 migrants died between 2014 and 2018 while taking the treacherous journey to Europe, IOM figures indicated in January.