* Italian sea patrols handed migrants over to Libya
* Libya says Eritreans being treated as “guests”
* Rights watchdog says has reports of Libyan violence
TRIPOLI, July 8 (Reuters) - Libya denied allegations from human rights groups on Thursday that it was mistreating a group of Eritrean migrants who had been turned back at sea by Italian patrols and handed over to Libya.
Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has said he had information the migrants were subjected to violence by Libyan police, leaving several of them seriously injured.
Libya says there are 400 refugees in total. Of them, 245 have been turned back by Italian patrols and handed over to Libya — a case that has caused a political row in Italy. [ID:nLDE6651R3]
“There are about 400 illegal migrants from Eritrea being held in detention centres in Libya and they are treated as temporary guests,” Libya’s official Jana news agency quoted a foreign ministry statement as saying.
“Libyan authorities have opened the detention centres to humanitarian and human rights bodies and diplomatic representatives to witness the conditions and treatment of the migrants,” the agency said. “This is in itself a dismissal of these allegations of mistreatment.”
Rights group Amnesty International said in a report last month that Libya was failing to protect the rights of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who use the country as a stopping off point on their way to Europe. [ID:nLDE65L2K7]
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has intervened frequently on behalf of migrants in Libya but the government said in June it had to leave because its presence was not covered by a convention with the United Nations. [ID:nLDE6572KM]
Libya’s authorities say they are doing their best to cope with the flow of migrants and allege that European governments have unfairly burdened them with the responsibility of policing the EU’s southern border.
Libya says it has cut sharply the numbers of migrants trying to reach Europe since reaching a deal with Italy early last year. Under the deal, illegal migrants caught by Italian authorities are returned to Libya before being sent back to their home countries. (Reporting by Maghreb newsroom; Editing by Maria Golovnina)