ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AFP) — Rwanda on Tuesday agreed to take in hundreds and potentially thousands of African Immigrants stranded in Libya, a deal the African Union hopes to replicate with other member states.
“We will be receiving the initial number of 500 in a few weeks,” Hope Tumukunde Gasatura, Rwanda’s ambassador to the AU, told a news conference after signing a memorandum of understanding alongside representatives of the AU and the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
The first group “is principally made up of people originating from the Horn of Africa,” the AU and the UN said in a statement.
They will be housed in a transit center in Rwanda before being resettled elsewhere unless they agree to return to their home countries.
In the chaos that followed the fall and killing of former dictator Moammar Kadhafi in a 2011 uprising, Libya became a key transit point for sub-Saharan Africans seeking to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe. The UN says some 42,000 immigrants are in Libya today.
“We have been desperately searching for solutions for those people,” said Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR’s representative to the AU at the news conference in Addis Ababa, the seat of the pan-African body.
The Rwandan government is prepared to take in as many as 30,000 Africans from Libya, though the plan is for the process to unfold in batches of 500 to prevent the country from becoming overwhelmed.
“Fewer countries around the world are more prepared to admit refugees,” Chanda said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame first offered to take in Africans stuck in Libya back in November 2017, the same month a CNN report showed what appeared to be a slave market there.
The issue took on new urgency in July when more than 40 people were killed in an air strike on an immigrant detention centre in the Libyan town of Tajoura.
The UN has been criticized for its handling of a transit mechanism for evacuees from Libya established in 2017 on the other side of the continent, in Niger.
Facilities there have struggled with overcrowding and the slow processing of asylum applications.
Rwandan and UN officials “have learned from the Niger experience and we have fine-tuned the procedure,” Chanda said.
However, he said, “The process is going to be very lengthy.”
Tumukunde Gasatura, the Rwandan ambassador, said refugees and asylum-seekers would be housed in facilities that have been used for Burundian refugees fleeing that country’s political crisis in 2015.
The AU hailed the deal with Rwanda as an example of African governments stepping up to solve the continent’s problems.
“It is a historical moment because Africans are extending their hands to other Africans,” said Amira Elfadil, the AU’s social affairs commissioner.
“We kept on talking about finding durable solutions. My belief is this is part of the durable solutions.”
Officials hope that other African countries will offer similar assistance, though Elfadil said so far none have been forthcoming.
© Agence France-Presse