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ROME, The U.N. refugee agency says it has had a permanent presence in Libya this year, providing humanitarian assistance and medical aid to refugees and migrants in detention centers. The UNHCR works with Libyan authorities to obtain the release of vulnerable refugees and their evacuation from Libya.
The U.N. is expected to open a new transit center in Tripoli this month, which will have a capacity for 1,000 people. From this gathering and departure facility, candidates for asylum will be evacuated to a U.N. center in Niamey in Niger to complete their applications, which will allow them to be transferred to resettlement nations.
Speaking Friday in Rome, the UNHCR representative in Libya, Roberto Mignone, said more than 1,500 migrants and refugees already have made the trip to Niger this year, and 200 have been accepted for asylum in countries like France, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany.
Mignone said European countries have offered to take 4,000 refugees, but the process of re-settling must be accelerated. It is a mechanism that works, he added, but European nations need to accept refugees at a quicker pace.
Mignone said the UNHCR has the capability at present to evacuate more than 1,000 people a month from Libya to Niger, but then these other refugees must leave the center in Niger or a bottleneck is created.
Mignone added that if more offers from European countries are forthcoming, other centers could be opened in the region. He said talks are underway with Chad, Burkina Faso and Sudan.
Italy's new populist government recently intensified a crackdown on humanitarian rescue boats operating off Libya, refusing to give them docking permission in Italian ports and forcing them to sail hundreds of miles to Spain.
U.N. officials say the impact of the crackdown and the Libyan coast guard's ineffectiveness at carrying out the rescue of migrants has caused the number of deaths at sea to soar, along with an increase in the number of people being held in Libyan detention centers.
More than 10,000 migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard this year and taken to 17 active detention centers in the country. Mignone said "overcrowding in Libyan centers is a serious problem and abuses on migrants cannot be ruled out."
Despite fewer crossings, more than 1,000 people have drowned this year alone. Carlotta Sami, the UNHCR's spokesperson in Rome, called June's mortality rate in the central Mediterranean "dramatic and exceptional."
Sami said that in 2017, on average, only one in every 38 migrants attempting the crossing died. Today that number is one in every seven.
The United Nations has urged Italy to end its campaign against humanitarian rescue boats in the Mediterranean, but Italy's Interior minister, Matteo Salvini, shows no sign of wanting to back down, and he has said his aim is that"not one more person arrives by boat" on Italian shores.
Source: Voice of America