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Libya orders UN refugee agency to close office

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Libya orders UNHCR to close its offices
  • Agency serves refugees from many North African countries
  • Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention

(CNN) -- The UN refugee agency was in negotiations with Libya on Wednesday to find a solution to continue operating in the country, a day after the government ordered it to close its office.

"This will leave a huge vacuum for the thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers who are there already and, of course, those who continue to arrive steadily on boats every week," said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming on Tuesday.

The UNHCR has been working in Libya for 19 years at the invitation of the government.

The agency mostly deals with refugees from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and several other African countries. In many cases, the refugees land in Libya because of Italy's policy to push back those who are trying to flee there from North Africa and the Middle East.

Libya has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no national asylum system in place. In its absence, the 26-member staff of the UNHCR has been registering refugees, visiting detention facilities and providing medical and humanitarian assistance to them, the agency said.

Libyan officials could not be immediately reached for comment.