Panafrican News Agency

Evacuation of African refugees from Libya to Rwanda to be suspended after 500 arrive, UNHCR official says

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - The Emergency Transit Mechanism to evacuate people at risk of harm in detention centres inside Libya to Rwanda will be put on hold once the group of 500 African refugees and asylum seekers are completely settled in Rwanda, a senior official from the UN Refugee agency told PANA on Friday.

According to Charlie Yaxley, the UNHCR Spokesperson for Africa, it is now impossible to estimate how long the Emergency Transit Mechanism will last.

"This is an expansion of the humanitarian evacuation to save lives, it is still impossible to estimate because the first group arrived yesterday,” he said.

Hundreds of African refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libyan detention centres started arriving in Rwanda on Thursday under a “life-saving” agreement reached with Kigali and the African Union (AU). 

Reacting to current efforts, Yaxley explained that the major concern was mobilising more resources due to limited external funding to cater for these refugees after the Emergency Transit Mechanism is over.

"We are continuing to advocate with states on funding and resettlement but nothing concrete yet," he said.

Taking on Twitter, the UN Refugee agency spokesperson confirmed the first group of vulnerable refugees have been safely evacuated from Libya and have reached the tarmac in Kigali airport. 

The evacuees are Sudanese, Somali or Eritrean.

Rwanda, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the African Union (AU) earlier this month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees and asylum seekers out of Libya.

According to the agreement, Rwanda will receive and provide protection to a group of 500 refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, as well as others identified as particularly vulnerable and at risk, who are currently being held in detention centres in Libya, and will be transferred to safety in Rwanda on a voluntary basis.

In 2017, the Rwandan Government made the commitment following damning revelations that tens of thousands of people from across Africa were not only stranded in Libya after their failed bid to reach Europe but many of them were being subjected to slavery.

Estimates by the United Nations indicate that almost 5,000 migrants are in detention in Libya, about 70 per cent of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, with most of them having been subjected to different forms of abuse.

-0- PANA TWA/MA 27Sept2019