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story.lead_photo.caption In this Oct. 1, 2019 file photo, rescued migrants are seated next to a coast guard boat in the city of Khoms, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Hazem Ahmed, File)

CAIRO -- The United Nations refugee agency plans to cut the number of migrants staying at a crowded transit center in Libya's capital, a spokesman said Saturday.

Libya is a major waypoint for migrants heading to Europe after fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said that "the situation is very difficult, and we do not have the resources" because the center in Tripoli is at about twice its capacity, with some 1,200 migrants.

The U.N. has asked those refugees not registered with the agency to leave the European Union-funded Gathering and Departure Facility, offering an assistance package that includes cash for an initial two months.

"You will not be considered for evacuation or resettlement if you stay at the [Gathering and Departure Facility]," the agency warned the migrants, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press. It added that those seeking registration with the agency could only do so "outside" the facility.

The agency said it would phase out food distribution for the unregistered migrants, including dozens of tuberculosis patients, starting Jan. 1.

Yaxley said the agency also offered to facilitate the return of the migrants to their home countries or to countries where they previously registered as asylum-seekers.

Migrants, however, decried the move, fearing they would end up at detention centers or at the mercy of human traffickers.

"The migrants are reluctant and have their concerns about leaving the [Gathering and Departure Facility]," said one person seeking shelter at the facility, who spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety. The surrounding areas of Tripoli have seen heavy fighting between armed factions since April.

The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, launched an offensive to capture the capital city in April, clashing with an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported but fragile government.

The fighting has stalled in recent weeks, with both sides digging in and shelling one another along Tripoli's southern reaches. They have also carried out airstrikes and drone attacks.

In July, an airstrike hit a detention center for migrants outside Tripoli, killing more than 50 people held there. The Tripoli-based authorities blamed the Libyan National Army for the airstrikes. The Libyan National Army, however, said it was targeting a nearby military site, not the detention center.

After the airstrike, hundreds of former detainees made their way into the Gathering and Departure Facility, the agency said. They were followed in late October by another group of about 400 people from Abu Salim detention center, as well as up to 200 people from urban areas.

The gathering point, which was opened a year ago, has the capacity for about 600 people.

"We hope that the [Gathering and Departure Facility] will be able to return to its original function as a transit facility for the most acutely vulnerable refugees, so we are able to evacuate them to safety," said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the agency's chief of mission for Libya.

There are about 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban areas across Libya, some of whom are extremely vulnerable, face abuse in militia-run detention centers, and are in desperate need of support, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

A Section on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: U.N. to expel migrants from Libya facility

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