The first African refugees have arrived in France under a scheme to bring selected vulnerable people directly to Europe. The move comes amid UN, European and African efforts to stop treacherous Mediterranean crossings, and to head off illegal migration.
Nineteen Sudanese refugees arrived in Paris on Monday to be taken to a convent in eastern France.
It was a world away from the place they had spent the past four years, a camp in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, where they had been sheltering with around 1,000 people.
Now the nineteen, eleven of them children, are the guests of France – the first to benefit from a plan to bring selected vulnerable people from Africa to Europe.
French interior ministry officials said the Sudanese were to be followed by a second group of 25 refugees from Niger.
And in the next two years, 10,000 refugees will be selected, including 3,000 from the former French colonies Niger and Chad.
The program agreed in August by Niger, Chad and Libya, as well as four EU countries, is aimed at reducing the numbers of people entering Europe illegally, especially those who risk their lives at sea.
More than 3,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats since Europe’s migrant crisis started in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration.
UN to evacuate thousands from Libya
Also in an effort to address the movement of migrants and refugees along the Mediterranean routes, the United Nations has announced a plan to evacuate thousands of people from Libya next year.
The UN refugee agency representative in Libya, Roberto Mignone, says the UN will try to send between 5,000 and 10,000 of the most vulnerable refugees to third, unspecified, countries in 2018.
By the end of January, a thousand refugees from Libya should have been evacuated, according to Mignone.
People from Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan’s Darfur region, as well as Oromo Ethiopians, are automatically registered as refugees in Libya.
Solving the Libya crisis
Libya has long been a transit hub for people seeking protection or a better life in Europe.
There are an estimated 700,000 migrants in Libya, most of them in areas outside government control.
Nearly as many – more than 600,000 – have made the journey across the central Mediterranean in the past four years.
The political chaos in Libya since the revolution in 2011 has enabled people smugglers to exploit tens of thousands of those trying to leave.
The Libyan authorities too have been accused of abusing migrants. In November, CNN broadcast pictures of a slave market in the country and reported that smugglers and criminal networks there act with impunity.
There have also been reports of rape, torture and beatings of migrants in Libya, including in detention camps under the control of the government.
EU pours funds into voluntary returns
The European Union, the African Union and the United Nations are increasing their efforts to break traffickers and criminal networks in Libya.
In Abidjan last month, the European Commission said they would continue to work closely with Libyan authorities to save and protect the lives of migrants and refugees along the routes.
Their aim is also to speed up the return of migrants from Libya to their countries of origin.
In the past year, EU funding has helped the Libyan authorities to arrange for the returns of 13,000 migrants to their home countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said they want another 15,000 to be returned in the next two months.Mogherini says another 100 billion euros is to be added to the multi-billion euro Africa trust fund, with the money to be spent on flights from Libya and helping migrants resettle.