UN says Libya to set up migrant transfer centre

Tripoli - The United Nations' refugee agency on Wednesday welcomed a move by Libyan authorities to create a "transit and departure facility" to transfer the most vulnerable migrants to third countries.

Supported by the Italian government, the centre in Tripoli would help thousands of vulnerable migrants reach safety, the UNHCR said in a statement.

Libyan authorities have not so far confirmed the centre's creation.

The announcement comes just days after US news channel CNN broadcast video footage appearing to show migrants being sold as slaves near Tripoli.

The UNHCR's Libya representative, Roberto Mignone, said the centre's main aim was to speed up the process of helping unaccompanied and separated children and women to find "solutions in third countries".

"These solutions will include resettlement, family reunification, evacuation to UNHCR-run emergency facilities in other countries, or voluntary return, as appropriate," he was quoted as saying in the statement.

"We hope that thousands of the most vulnerable refugees currently in Libya will benefit."

The UNHCR says in September it asked for 40,000 additional resettlement places be made available to refugees in 15 countries, but that "so far, only 10,500 pledges have been made".

"We now need EU member states and others to step up with offers of resettlement places and other solutions, including family reunification slots," Mignone said.

On November 11, a first group of 25 Eritrean, Ethiopians and Sudanese refugees were evacuated from Libya to Niger pending their transfer to France by January, French officials said.

Libya has long been a major transit hub for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Many have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats or fallen prey to serious abuse at the hands of traffickers and others.

The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has branded as "inhuman" the European Union's policy of helping Libyan authorities intercept migrant boats and return them to "horrific" detention centres.

Libya's UN-backed authorities said Tuesday that flights repatriating stranded migrants would be stepped up, as the International Organisation for Migration called on Tripoli to empty its detention centres.

People-trafficking networks have flourished in the chaos that followed a Nato-backed uprising which toppled long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

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