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UN agency concerned over safety of Libya's asylum-seekers


UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is deeply concerned about the safety of refugees and asylum- seekers in Libya as fighting surged in the country, a UN spokesperson said Tuesday.

"Almost 37,000 people have been registered with UNHCR in Tripoli and Benghazi, with many living in areas heavily damaged by fighting and unable to leave to safer areas due to ongoing clashes, " Vannina Maestracci, assistant spokesperson for UN chief, told a briefing at the UN headquarters.

Meastracci noted that thousands of desperate people are also risking their lives and leaving for Europe by sea. So far this year, more than 1,000 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean sea.

UNHCR estimated that around 77,000 people who departed from Libya by boat have arrived in Italy so far this year.

The agency has urged Libyan authorities to relax exit visa restrictions to allow people seeking safety to leave land borders, said Meastracci, adding that it has also asked Egypt and Tunisia to keep their borders open to those fleeing the violence and seeking international protection.

Libya is facing the worst violence after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. For over three weeks, rival militias have been fighting around Tripoli international airport, attempting to take control of the air hub.

In Benghazi, the Operation Dignity, launched by General Khalifa Haftar against Islamist militant groups, is still going on, where warplanes are involved in attacking the militant strongholds.