It started as a rumour, but it’s now official. There is a programme to transfer migrants stranded in Libya to Rwanda, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday in Geneva. The measure is part of an “emergency transit mechanism”, to evacuate people at risk of harm in detention centres inside the county.
Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesman, said the agreement was “a life-line” mechanism to allow those in danger to get to a place of safety.
Although the transfer scheme is said to have been put together by the African Union, Rwanda and the UNHCR, but it will be financed by the EU, which is believed to have brokered the deal.
The EU has made deals with Libya Turkey and Niger, to keep asylum-seekers away from Europe. Now, the EU is supporting a programme to evacuate migrants in Libya and send them to Rwanda, say critics.
According to the UNHCR spokesman, the first 500 migrants who volunteered to be transferred to Rwanda will be flown out of Libya in the next days. Most of these fled Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. Overall, the Rwandan government has agreed to accept 30,000 people, according to the plan.
The UN refugee agency will help Rwanda to examine the asylum applications of the migrants. Recognized refugees should be relocated to third countries. Some are supposed to obtain residence rights in Rwanda.
Those whose asylum applications are rejected would receive help to return to their home countries, according to the plan.
The United Nations estimates the number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya at 50,000, but experts believe they number in the hundreds of thousands. Most of the migrants would like to cross to Europe via the Mediterranean coast of Libya.
Migrants picked up by Libyan authorities or prevented from escaping to Europe by the country’s coast guard are sent to detention centres. According to international humanitarian organisations, inhumane conditions prevail in the facilities: inmates are mistreated and they lack food and medical care. Moreover, there is an ongoing civil war in Libya.