Refugees evacuated from Libya play volleyball at the Gashora transit center, eastern Rwanda on October 23, 2019 | Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua
Refugees evacuated from Libya play volleyball at the Gashora transit center, eastern Rwanda on October 23, 2019 | Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/Xinhua

Norway says it will take 600 asylum seekers recently evacuated to Rwanda from Libyan detention centers. The Norwegian immigration minister told media that his country wants to stop the sometimes deadly smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

"For me it is important to send a signal that we will not back smuggling routes and cynical backers, but instead bring in people with protection needs in an organized form," Justice and Immigration Minister Joaran Kallmyr said in a statement emailed Thursday to The Associated Press (AP).

"Therefore, the government has decided to collect 600 quota refugees from Libya, out of 800 in total, from the transit reception in Rwanda in 2020,'' he added. According to AP sources, many of the asylum seekers are from countries from the Horn of Africa region. 

While AP cites the number 600, news agency Reuters says Norway has announced it will take in nearly 500 people.  

Evacuation agreement

The evacuation of vulnerable persons from detention centers in Libya to Rwanda started in September last year as part of an agreement between Rwanda, the African Union and the UNHCR. The deal is meant to help resettle people detained in Libya while trying to reach Europe, Reuters writes.  

Some 800 are currently staying at an emergency transit center in Rwanda’s Bugesera district, AP reports. They have been given asylum seeker status in Rwanda while the UNHCR determines whether they are refugees.


So far Norway and Sweden have offered to take some of them, according to Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, who said Wednesday that Sweden has already taken in seven.

People smuggling

Before the evacuation agreement was signed, the United Nations estimated that around 4,700 people seeking refuge to be in Libyan detention centers, some of them run by militias and under siege amid civil war. That's according to Reuters reporting.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have been sent by people smugglers on dangerous journeys across the central Mediterranean since Libya tumbled into turmoil in 2011. Amid an EU-backed push to block departures, however, the number of crossings has dropped sharply since 2017. Migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped by almost 50% in 2019 on 2018 numbers. 

However, lower migrant arrival numbers do not mean that people smuggling has decreased at the same time. The International Organization for Migration recently stressed that missing migrant boats have become more frequent -- boats that go off the radar. ''These 'ghost boats' -- vessels reported missing en route to Europe for which no hard evidence can be found -- have become increasingly frequent since the search and rescue presence of European and non-governmental actors fell in mid-2017'', the organization said. Moreover, forces of Libya's coast guard have also stepped up interceptions of migrant boats in order to return migrants to detention centers in Libya.

With AP, Reuters

•••• ➤ Note: There is no application process for resettlement. The UNHCR identifies refugees for resettlement consideration on an on-going basis by monitoring specific protection needs and vulnerabilities. For more information about resettlement from Rwanda, see here.

 

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