UN Refugee Agency Requested to Cease Operations in Libya

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–8 June 2010 – The United Nations refugee agency reported today that Libyan authorities have asked it to cease its work in the country and close its offices there, but have given no reasons for the decision.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regretted the Libyan Government’s action, agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva, adding that UNHCR’s activities in the country included protecting, assisting and finding durable solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers.

“UNHCR had made Libya a country where resettlement programmes were being prioritized and was helping refugees to find new homes in other countries,” Ms. Fleming said. “Should UNHCR offices close, these resettlement programmes would have to cease,” she added.

There are an estimated 9,000 refugees and about 3,700 asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Libya. The agency and its implementing partners provide healthcare, shelter, education and vocational training to the refugees and asylum-seekers.

The majority of the refugees are Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Eritreans, Liberians and Ethiopians, the agency said. Most of the asylum-seekers came from Eritrea.

UNHCR runs the only asylum-seekers assistance programme in Libya and its departure would create a vacuum for the thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers already there, and those who continued to arrive every week, Ms. Fleming said.

She said that UNHCR was trying to negotiate its presence in Libya and remained hopeful that a positive solution could be found.

UNHCR has worked in Libya since 1991 and currently has 26 staff members, the majority of them Libyan employees.