October 2, 2009 / 4:44 PM / 9 years ago

Don't send back refugees to Libya, UNHCR boss says

* UNHCR urges Europeans not to deport refugees to Libya

* Antonio Guterres says working to improve situation

* Italy has deal with Libya to return refugees



GENEVA, Oct 2 (Reuters) - European countries should not forcibly send migrants back to Libya as the country does not fully protect their rights to asylum, the United Nations refugee chief said on Friday.

Under a deal with Tripoli, Italy has been intercepting African migrant boats in international waters since May and returning them, without screening for asylum applications, to Libya, which has not signed international treaties on refugees.

"We have many concerns about the so-called ‘push-backs’ in the Mediterranean, notably to countries where a protection regime does not exist in a satisfactory way," Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told a news conference.

"It is true that in Libya, the overall necessary conditions to guarantee the protection of refugees do not exist. Even when refugee status is granted, it doesn’t guarantee the possibility that these people will have access to their full rights as refugees," said Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal.

His agency was working with a Libyan relief agency to improve the situation in the country, where it has access to some detention centres where migrants are held, he added.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last month that the European Union should demand that Italy stop the practice of forcing African boats back to Libya, where would-be asylum seekers are consigned to inhumane camps.

In its 92-page report, the New York-based group said that migrants testified to brutal beatings and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in Libyan camps. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Elizabeth Fullerton)

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