The United Nations refugee agency has been allowed to resume operations in Libya, nearly three weeks after authorities in the North African country ordered the agency to stop work and close its offices.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that while it is able to re-start work, its operations will be restricted to only its current caseload in a country that is a key transit point for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
The Libyan Government gave no reasons for the decision earlier this month, but in recent days authorities have accused UNHCR staff of serious misconduct, including the taking of bribes and sexual favours in exchange for the granting of refugee status to immigrants.
UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards stressed that the Libyan allegations remain unsubstantiated. He told journalists in Geneva that talks on the agency’s future in the country will resume shortly and that the expulsion order has not yet been formally lifted.
“UNHCR does take very seriously any accusation against any UNHCR staff member from whatever source,” he said. “We have a zero tolerance policy for misconduct. We have asked the Libyan Government to substantiate these particular claims. If and when we receive these indications, we will be in a position to investigate through our normal procedures.”
An estimated 9,000 refugees and 3,700 asylum-seekers are registered with UNHCR in Libya, and the majority of them are either Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Eritreans, Liberians or Ethiopians. The agency provides health care, shelter, education and vocational training.
UNHCR has operated in Libya since 1991 and runs the only asylum-seeker assistance programme in the country.