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Evacuated from Libya, Africa refugees arrive in Rwanda

A group of migrants, rescued by Libyan Coastal Guard, wait after a boat sank off the city of Al-Khoms, Libya 5 miles from the coast on 25 July 2019 [Hazem Turkia/Anadolu Agency]
A group of migrants rescued by Libyan Coastal Guard after a boat sank off the city of Al-Khoms, Libya on 25 July 2019 [Hazem Turkia/Anadolu Agency]

Unaccompanied children, single mothers and families from Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia have started arriving in Rwanda as part of a UNHCR plan to evacuate them from detention centres in Libya.

Starting last month, 189 asylum seekers began arriving in Rwanda; 120 more will arrive next month.

In total, Rwanda has agreed to take 500 temporarily as one of the few countries that have offered places of resettlement.

There are thought to be over 50,000 refugees fleeing war and poverty in Libya and almost 5,000 are thought to be detained in underground cells.

This summer the UN called for migrant centres in the North African country to be dismantled saying they are not fit to house migrants.

Refugees have reported unlawful killings, torture, sexual violence and extortion in the squalid centres where they are held in arbitrary and indefinite detention.

In July over 50 people were killed when an air strike hit a detention centre in Tripoli.

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Rights groups have said that efforts by EU member states to close off the route through Libya and across the Mediterranean, which has swelled in the power vacuum that followed the death of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is extremely dangerous for refugees.

Despite the widely documented abuse that takes place there, EU states have boosted the capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrants and refugees and return them to Libya. In April 2018 alone the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted and returned 1,485 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, who were then transferred to detention centres.

Ganet Nagesh, 37, from Eritrea, told VOA that she paid $5,500 for a smuggler to get her to Europe but that the Libyan coast guard intercepted the boat and told her they were taking her to a UN camp which turned out to be a detention centre.

As part of a plan to evacuate refugees out of such conditions in Libya, the Rwandan government, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the African Union signed a memorandum of understanding in early September under which Rwanda would provide protection to these refugees and asylum seekers.

From here, some may be resettled to third countries, others to where asylum was previously granted; others may return to their home countries whilst some will remain in Rwanda.

In 2017, rumours surfaced that Rwanda was the "third country" with which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had signed a deal that would allow the forcible deportation of asylum seekers. Rwanda vehemently denied the allegations, while commentators suggested the deal formed part of a wider agreement which would see the east African country granted Israeli arms in return for taking its forcibly-displaced asylum seekers.

In 1994, 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan genocide and two million people became refugees in the neighbouring countries, according to a UNHCR estimate.

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AfricaInternational OrganisationsLibyaNewsRwandaUN
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