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UN agency warns of refugee conditions in Libya

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(BRUSSELS) - The UN's refugee agency ruled out Libya Monday as a country to host people seeking protection in Europe as asylum seekers, describing conditions in some migration centres there as appalling.

"Libya does not have the conditions needed to provide a solution with adequate protection for refugees or asylum seekers at the moment," said the head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

"There are detention circumstances that are appalling and there is an effect that people that deserve and need protection will be sent back to their countries of origin," he told reporters in Brussels.

His remarks, at a meeting of EU interior ministers focused on refugees and immigration, came after Italy began, in May, sending boat-loads of people hoping to find a home in Europe back to their point of departure in Libya.

Libya is a major transit nation for sub-Saharan Africans -- many recently from the Horn of Africa -- risking their lives in rickety boats to make the Mediterranean crossing.

Last year, some 35,000 illegal immigrants arrived on Italian shores. Of them, 75 percent sought political or humanitarian asylum, half of whom obtained it, according to the UN refugee agency.

The rights watchdog Human Rights Watch also slammed Monday conditions in Libya and hit out at Italy's new immigration policy.

"Italy intercepts African boat migrants and asylum seekers, fails to screen them for refugee status or other vulnerabilities, and forcibly returns them to Libya, where many are detained in inhuman and degrading conditions and abused," it said in a report.

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