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Italy urges Libya to let UNHCR stay

Refugee body should be given diplomatic immunity, says Frattini

08 June, 17:33
Italy urges Libya to let UNHCR stay (ANSA) - Berlin, June 8 - Italy on Tuesday urged Libya to allow the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR to keep its office in Tripoli open.

"We have asked Libya to start negotiations for a deal to grant the UN organisation's office diplomatic immunity and allow it to work," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters on a visit to Germany.

In Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said Tripoli told the agency to shut its office last week but gave no deadline or explanation. Voicing "deep regret", she said "let's hope a solution can be found".

"This creates a void for thousands of refugees and asylum seekers already present (in Libya) and for those who will continue to arrive".

Fleming pointed out that Libya did not have its own system for processing asylum requests and recalled that Tripoli was not a signatory to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention.

In Tripoli, the UN's new coordinator in Libya, Costanza Farina, declined to comment on the move and said she was waiting for the Libyan foreign ministry to issue an official explanation.

The Libyan-run International Centre for Migration Policy Development told reporters to direct questions to the foreign ministry.

Frattini, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, said Italy had itself "asked for an explanation".

The closure of the office coincides with the first interception of a migrant boat, Thursday, carrying 22 would-be asylum seekers from Libya to Italy.

UNHCR spokesperson Fleming reiterated the agency's "very critical position" of Italy's 'push-back' policy agreed with the North African nation last year..

She added that "all the European countries who see Libya as a place where people who flee persecution can be received" should reconsider that stance "very carefully" if the UNHCR office remains shut.

Italy's centre-right government has hailed the push-back policy as a success, claiming the number of migrants landing on its southern shores has dropped 96% since May 2009.

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