Rwanda offers migrants stuck in Libya, Niger a safe haven

Saturday August 10 2019

Illegal immigrants, who were rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, arrive at a naval base in the capital Tripoli on May 26, 2017. PHOTO | MAHMUD TURKIA | AFP


Rwanda will soon start receiving hundreds of African immigrants who are stranded in detention centres North Africa, as part of concerted emergency efforts by humanitarian agencies and the European Union to stop the migration caravan.

According to media reports, the Paul Kagame administration is ready to host the now homeless Africans, and its officials recently visited Niger, where close to 1,000 immigrants are held in detention centres.

The EU has been exploring resettlement options and has approached a number of African countries to host them.

Rwanda had in 2017, offered to host 30,000 African immigrants stuck in Libya over the next few years, the first 500 of whom will be received soon.

“The desperate situation in Libya is disturbing and we are prepared to provide support and sanctuary for our African brothers who are stuck in the immigration debacle in Libya, and who are willing to move to Rwanda,” President Kagame said last year while hosting foreign diplomats in Kigali.

The Financial Times this week reported that while the details have yet to be finalised, the evacuees are being given the option to stay on in Rwanda or return to their home countries.


“Some are likely to be from other eastern Africa states such as Ethiopia and Somalia—though many among them may be unable or unwilling to go back,” the Times added.

“We are indeed exploring the Rwandan evacuation option alongside the African Union as we try to find a solution to this,” Vincent Cochetel, UN High Commissioner for Refugees special envoy for the Central Mediterranean said.

Last month, the International Organisation of Migration Director General António Vitorino and UNHCR Director General Filippo Grandi wrote to Federica Mogherini, EU’s top diplomat, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, backing the Kigali plan, noting that it would help ease the inhumane conditions facing the immigrants in the Libyan detention centres.

The migrants chosen for this relocation are a mix of asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, refugees, economic immigrants, and stateless people. Most Ethiopians and Somalis, prefer to go to Rwanda.

President Kagame, AU chair Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat are among African leaders invited to the G7 meeting scheduled for August 24-26 in French coastal town of Biarritz.

The other countries invited are the next AU chair South Africa, the current leader of the New Partnership for African Development Senegal, and the chair of G5 Sahel Burkina Faso.

The issue of resettling the African immigrants is expected to feature in the meeting.

Three main concerns

Rwanda’s director-general for Africa Diyana Gitera said that the plan under discussion, once agreed, would involve Kigali accepting 500 refugees from Libya under an “emergency transit mechanism” funded by the EU and UN.

It is also understood that Kigali would fund transportation for migrants who want to return to their homelands, with their resettlement costs handled by the EU and humanitarian agencies.

The urgency to move the immigrants comes against the background of recent attacks, with more than 50 killed in an airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre, east of Tripoli.

“As a priority we ask that 5,600 refugees and migrants currently held in centres across Libya be freed and their protection guaranteed, or evacuated to other countries from where accelerated resettlement is needed. For this, countries must step forward with more evacuation and resettlement places,” IOM and UNHCR said in their joint letter.


According to the UN, Libya has more than 600,000 African immigrants, with more than 5,000 in detention centres. The majority are refugees and asylum seekers.

Libya’s neighbour Niger has since 2017 hosted more than 2,600 evacuated immigrants from Tripoli as part of a deal it struck with the EU to stem the flow.

It has received more than $350,000 from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to help it boost its border management and cut off people-smuggling networks.

Last year, President Kagame and EC President Jean Claude Juncker met in Belgium and discussed the matter in detail. Mr Junker thereafter thanked the Rwandan leader for offering to host the migrants and refugees stranded in Libya.

Systemic issues

Analysts say catching the eye of the superpowers means a lot for Rwanda. Partnerships with Rwanda may be important for benefits at the continental and regional level.

The invitation by the G7 is seen as a strategic move by Europe to continue actively engaging the AU on the migrant crisis in an effort to halt and tackle the systemic issues that cause migration, namely violence, economic decline and persecution.

The EU set up a $5 billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to facilitate economic development and to contribute to better migration management, including by addressing the root causes of destabilisation, forced displacement and irregular migration.

The UN High Commission for Refugees in Kigali has previously told The EastAfrican that it is not involved in the relocation of refugees from Libya to Rwanda, although they support the move.

Andrea Gagne, a human-rights activist documenting the lives of African migrants and refugees in Libya, says that the general agreement is that emergency evacuations out of Libya is a a short-term solution.

“The refugees and migrants have three main concerns. The first is if they will be adequately protected in Rwanda. The second is if they will have freedom of movement or whether they will be trapped in a camp. The third is if there is a long term plan that would involve real sustainable solutions,” Ms Gagne told The EastAfrican.

Last year, Rwanda began issuing refugees with international travel documents to ease their movement across borders, except their countries of origin.

It also started issued refugees with identity cards, replacing the ‘proof of registration’ documents. The IDs allow them to move freely within the country and access social services and jobs.

The majority of refugees in Libya are from Eritrea and Sudan. Human-rights groups say that they live in terrible conditions, and subjected to slavery, violence, rape and exploitation by human traffickers.