Some 500 African refugees who were held captive in Libya’s notoriously abusive migrant detention centers will be evacuated to Rwanda as part of a deal made by U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), the African Union, and Rwanda.
“The agreement with Rwanda says the number can be increased from 500 if they are satisfied with how it works,” explained Vincent Cochetel, special envoy for the central Mediterranean for the U.N. refugee agency.
“It really depends on the response of the international community to make it work. But it means we have one more solution to the situation in Libya. It’s not a big fix, but it’s helpful.”
Still, it is unclear how long these refugees will be in Rwanda, or if the EU will accept them as refugees in Europe.
“On one hand you could say that anything is better than being stuck in a Libyan detention centre, so the fact that this gives refugees the opportunity to get out is positive,” said Jeffery Crisp, an expert on migration and refugee issues.
“But many of the refugees will be expecting resettlement in Europe, which can often take time – and you have to wonder if the EU is going to make these resettlement places available.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Many are picked up at sea by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard, which sends them back, often to be detained in squalid, overcrowded centres where they face beatings, rape and forced labour, according to aid workers and human rights groups.
Under the deal, refugees who want to go will be airlifted to Rwanda and stay in a transit facility on the outskirts of Kigali.
Priority will be given to the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, disabled and elderly people. Most of the refugees will be from countries in the Horn of Africa.
Cochetel said some evacuees may be resettled in third countries, while others will be helped to return to countries where they previous had asylum, or to their home countries if it is safe. Some may be permitted to stay in Rwanda, he added.
“Rwanda has said, ‘we’ll give them the space, we’ll give them the status, we’ll give them the residence permit. They will be legally residing in Rwanda as refugees’,” said Cochetel.
UNHCR said much the funding for this evacuation will come from the European Union, as well as the African Union, which has received $20 million from Qatar to support the reintegration of African migrants and refugees.
Rwanda becomes the second African nation to take in refugees from the Libyan crisis, following Niger, which has taken about 2,900 since 2017.
Despite concerns over the long-term future of these refugees, UNHCR and Rwanda say this deal is at least progress in getting refugees to safety.
“We didn’t sign an agreement with the EU. We signed an agreement with AU and UNHCR,” said Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Olivier Nduhungirehe.
“The refugees are in serious danger in Libya. It has been two years since the Rwandan president said that we are ready to contribute to find a solution by taking some of them. The UNHCR is also calling for other countries to take them.”