UNHCR, AU, Rwanda to Begin Airlifting Stranded Migrants in Libya

By Staff Reporter

Migrants-in-LibyaSeptember 10, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- The Government of Rwanda, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the African Union on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to set up a mechanism for evacuating refugees and asylum seekers out of Libya.

Under the agreement, the Government of Rwanda will provide protection to the refugees and others identified as particularly vulnerable and at-risk, who are currently being held in detention camps in Libya. They will be transferred to safety in Rwanda on a voluntary basis.

“The parties signed an agreement on the establishment of the facility to be established for refugees who are stranded in Libya. The refugees and asylum-seekers will be airlifted out of Libya and brought to Rwanda and they will be processed for onward movement to third countries. Some may decide to go back home voluntarily through UNHCR. Rwanda has also pledged to keep those refugees who cannot return home for different reasons," said Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR Representative to the AU and ECA to Ezega.com in an exclusive interview.

Under this agreement, at first a group of 500 persons in need of international protection will be evacuated. The group is said to be mainly originating from the Horn of Africa and includes children and youth at risk. After their arrival, UNHCR will continue to pursue solutions for the evacuees.

While some may benefit from resettlement to third countries, others will be helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, or to return to their home countries if it is safe to do so. Some may be given permission to remain in Rwanda subject to agreement by the competent authorities.

“Evacuation flights are expected to begin in the coming few weeks and will be carried out in co-operation with Rwandan and Libyan authorities. The African Union will provide assistance with evacuations, mobilize resources, and provide strategic political support with training and coordination. The UNHCR will provide protection services and the necessary humanitarian assistance including food, water, accommodation, education and healthcare," said Hope Tumukunde Gasatura, Rwandan Ambassador to Ethiopia, at the press conference after the signing of the MoU

UNHCR urges the international community to contribute resources to the implementation of the agreement. UNHCR has evacuated more than 4,400 persons of concern out of Libya to other countries since 2017, including 2,900 through the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger and 425 to European countries through the Emergency Transit Centre in Romania.

Ambassador Gasatura said the initiative is in line with the pledge made in November 2017 by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to make generous offer of receiving thousands of migrants stranded in Libya.

“Though the MoU covers 3000, Rwanda will receive 500 at a time, second, so we can have enough time to prepare for them, and even other our partners, under the leadership of the AU can come and follow up and ensure that things are as they are supposed to be,” the Ambassador said.

“We will be receiving the initial group of 500 in few weeks, when the AU and the UNHCR and also partners like IOM and other stakeholders can support that we can have the initial group as stipulated in the MoU,” she added.

Some 4,700 persons of concern are currently estimated to live in dire conditions inside detention centers in Libya. They urgently need to be moved to safety and to be provided with protection, lifesaving assistance, and durable solutions.

“We have registered about 42 thousand refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. We don’t have regular presence there because of safety and security concerns, but we do hope we receive input from the refugees and also enable those who have difficulties accessing us to come forward.

All the 42,000 will be airlifted from Libya with the help of the African Union which has contact with all concerned parties in Libya. “The Union will also help us with safety, landing right and security when we bring them to Rwanda,” Chanda said

“We have access to some of them. As you know security situations is very precarious. Parts Tripoli itself is not safe and cannot access some places there, said Cosmas Chanda, the UNHCR Representative to the AU and ECA.

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