A European rescue group says migrants stranded in the Mediterranean told it five ships passed them by and refused to help until one of the group's ships finally picked them up Friday.
"It seems the very principle of rendering assistance to persons in distress at sea is now at stake," Aloys Vimard of the group SOS Mediterranee said Sunday. "Policies designed to prevent people from reaching Europe at all costs are resulting in more suffering and even riskier journeys to safety for people who are already highly vulnerable."
Vimard said ships may be leaving migrants at sea because they are afraid of being denied permission to dock in places of safety.
SOS Mediterranee, working with Doctors Without Borders, picked up 141 migrants Friday stuck in rickety wooden boats off the Libyan coast.
It says most came from Somalia and Eritrea and had been held in inhumane conditions in Libya before taking off. Many were suffering from malnutrition.
Libya said it was refusing to let the group's ship, the Aquarius, dock. As of late Sunday, the Aquarius was still at sea, trying to find a place for the migrants.
SOS Mediterranee is urging European governments to heed international maritime law and allow ships to head to closest point of safety so migrants picked up at sea can get help.
It says all governments must recognize "the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean."
Thousands of people from sub-Saharan Africa and countries such as Syria and Afghanistan try crossing the Mediterranean every year to escape war, terrorism, and poverty for a better life in the European Union.