Hundreds of refugees trapped in Libyan detention centers are to be evacuated to Rwanda, the UN has announced. A first group of 500 refugees and asylum seekers are expected to be transferred in the coming weeks.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday that the refugees will be taken to Rwanda where they will be given protection by the government. The evacuees, most of whom come from the Horn of Africa, will include children, elderly and disabled people.
Under the agreement between Rwanda, UNHCR and the African Union, more people could be transferred "if they are satisfied with how it works," said Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean. "It really depends on the response of the international community to make it work," Cochetel said. "But it means we have one more solution to the situation in Libya. It’s not a big fix, but it’s helpful."
Since 2017, the UN has evacuated more than 4,400 refugees and asylum seekers from Libya. It estimates that Libyan detention centers still hold around 4,700 people from countries including Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. Many of the centers are run by militias, and detainees are forced to endure inhumane conditions. In July a detention center in Tripoli was bombed, leaving 40 migrants dead.
"The refugees are in serious danger in Libya," said Rwanda’s foreign minister, Olivier Nduhungirehe.
The African Union will assist with the evacuations,
providing training and coordination, while the UNHCR will be responsible for humanitarian
needs – food, water, accommodation, education and healthcare for the refugees.
The refugees who want to go are to be airlifted to Rwanda and will stay in a transit facility on the outskirts of Kigali.
Some of the evacuees will be resettled to third countries, according to a joint statement by the Rwandan Government, the UNHCR and the African Union. Others will be helped to return to countries where they have already been granted asylum, or to their home countries if it is safe. Some may be allowed to stay in Rwanda.
"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'," Cochetel clarified. Rwanda already supports about 150,000 refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
The deal is being funded by the European Union as well as from the African Union, which has received more than 18 million euros from Qatar to support the reintegration of African migrants and refugees.
Europe accused of 'outsourcing'
The deal with Rwanda has led critics to accuse the European Union once again of trying to outsource the migration crisis by paying other countries to take in refugees. They say Turkey, Libya's coast guard and Niger have all received EU funds as part of this "outsourcing network."
Rwanda is the second African country to take in refugees from Libya. Since 2017, around 2,900 people have been evacuated to Niger. More than 1,000 remain, including 195 unaccompanied children. The slow pace of resettlement of those evacuated to Niger over the past two years has led to a concern that those transferred to Rwanda could suffer the same fate.
Jeffery Crisp from Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Center says evacuees could end up staying in Rwanda for a long time while they wait to be resettled in a European country. "You have to wonder if the EU is going to make these resettlement places available," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.