ROME: A Spanish NGO ship which rescued 87 migrants off the coast of Libya two days ago was still looking on Friday to dock at a port, with Italy closed to them, the group Proactiva Open Arms said.
The migrants, nearly all from Sudan including from Darfur, had spent 50 hours at sea on board an inflatable boat, without drinking water and many suffering burns from a mixture of fuel and salt water.
Many of them jumped into the sea when the rescuers arrived on Wednesday for fear of being taken back to Libya where migrants often suffer abuse, arbitrary detentions, extortion and violence.
"We are beginning to see the first smiles, even though fear and uncertainty still show in their faces," the NGO said on Twitter Friday.
It added that it was glad to bring them "a bit of humanity after persecution in their country, torture in Libya and the long trek at sea".
But since the rescue the NGO ship has been patrolling the waters off Libya looking for a port.
"Anywhere but not Italy," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has already warned via Twitter, repeating the new government's hardline policy closing the country's ports to migrant rescue ships.
In two other rescue operations, the Open Arms was forced to take the rescued migrants to Spain.
But migrants have been making their way to Italy via Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey.
Some 135 Tunisians on board 13 boats landed on the island of Lampedusa, Salvini announced Friday, but added that according to an agreement with Tunis, all of them will be sent back "in the next few days".
Italian police also intercepted a boat with 14 Algerians off the coast of southern Sardinia, and saw a sailboat with 25 people arrive in Sicily from Turkey a week ago.
This influx is much less than the migrant arrivals from Libya, representing over a third of the 18,800 migrants who have arrived by sea since January, according to Italy's interior ministry.