A group of migrants sit outside the UNHCR-run GDF facility in Tripoli | Photo: Abu Salim migrants
A group of migrants sit outside the UNHCR-run GDF facility in Tripoli | Photo: Abu Salim migrants

A new document by the German government highlights strengths and weaknesses in ongoing EU efforts to evacuate migrants and refugees stranded in Libya. It focused in particular on recent initiatives to move migrants to Rwanda and Niger.

The German government has released a document in response to a parliamentary inquiry ("kleine Anfrage") submitted by various members of parliament from the Die Linke (Left party). The inquiry addressed a number of migrant evacuation mechanisms initiated by the EU in Libya.

The response to the inquiry highlighted the respective success rates of two programs in particular: the so-called "Emergency Transit Mechanism" (ETM) signed between the government of Rwanda, the African Union (AU) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) earlier in 2019, and the agreement between the government of Niger and the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa also finalized in 2019.

The government document, however, meanwhile also specified that there were EU plans to hold talks with the African Union to promote further such collaboration with other AU member states.

Meeting targets in Niger

The paper showed how the European Union in general and the German government in particular were keeping up with targets set out in those agreements. In the case of transfers to Niger, there were a total of 2,913 evacuations there from Libya, about two-thirds of whom had since been further resettled in Germany, Belgium, Finland, France, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States, with another 217 awaiting resettlement.

Of the 300 refugees and migrants that Germany had agreed to resettle from Niger as part of the program in 2018; 288 had successfully been evacuated that year, and another 300 had been agreed for 2019, for which there were no numbers available. The document also highlighted that plans were in motion for another 300 evacuees to be taken from Niger to Germany in 2020.

The government response pointed out that the ETM facility in Niger's capital Niamey ran at only two-thirds of its full capacity of providing care to 1,500 persons, and that the funding of the facility for 2019 — to the tune of almost €46 million — was "sufficient."

The IOM and UNHCR run various facilities for migrants across Niger like this one in Agadez | Photo: picture-alliance/KEYSTONE/A. Anex

Building up a new program in Rwanda

The government's response to the inquiry stated that the ETM initiative in Rwanda meanwhile was being funded with €23.5 million, as assessed by the UNHCR at the launch of the cooperation for the initial 16 months of the project.

The early phase of the initiative in Rwanda is focused on 500 voluntary evacuees from Libya, who after being processed in Rwanda can either choose to be returned to their countries of origin or seek protection in other African nations, including Rwanda itself. Following a successful roll-out of the program with 500 participants, the next group of 500 evacuees would be expected to arrive in Rwanda next year.

One of the questions also put forward in the inquiry was what criteria were being used to decide who would be sent to Rwanda and who would be sent to Niger as part of the EMT evacuations. The government said in its response that there was no specific information provided by the UNHCR regarding the evacuation decisions taken, while underscoring the fact that the degree of protection requirement and its urgency factored in as much as the availability of capacities.

Migrants are settled at a transit center south of the Rwandan capital, Kigali | Photo: Imago/robertharding

A safe place in Libya

While there are tens of thousands of migrants in limbo in Libya, the German government said that, as of October 07, it knew of only about 900 people who were currently registered for future evacuation at the "Gathering and Departure Facility" (GDF) in Tripoli, which is run by the UNHCR. The capacity of that facility, the document further stated, was only 700.

One of the Left Party MPs who submitted the original inquiry, Andrej Hunko, said that the GDF facility in Tripoli was at least a "somewhat safe place in Libya for those seeking protection," urging the German government to invest more resources into expanding its capacities to provide shelter to more refugees and migrants.

Classified information

The original inquiry set out 21 questions, which the German government addressed individually. However, five of the answers were deemed to be classified, meaning that those answers were only communicated directly to the MPs and other government officials directly and cannot be shared directly with the public.

Those questions dealt directly with the situation on the ground in Libya, such as information on the progress regarding the closure of prisons where migrants were being held; how the EU might be able to increase the number of resettlements of migrants and refugees in Libya; and how the EU is combating human trafficking rings, in particular in collaboration with the government of Senegal.


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