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Rwanda agrees to receive African migrants stranded in Libya

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Rwanda agreed on Tuesday to receive hundreds and possibly thousands of African refugees or asylum-seekers stranded in Libya, under an agreement the African Union hopes will be repeated with other member states.

“We will receive a first batch of 500 people in a few weeks,” said Rwandan delegate to the African Union Hope Tumukunde Gasatura. Her comments came at a press conference following the signing of a memorandum of understanding in the presence of representatives of the African Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations.

According to a joint statement by the African Union and the United Nations that the first group “includes especially people from the Horn of Africa.”

They will be accommodated in a temporary center in Rwanda before being relocated, unless they agree to return to their home countries and if this does not endanger their lives.

“Some of them may be allowed to stay in Rwanda,” Rwandan Emergency Management Minister Jermaine Ramirez told reporters in Kigali.

In the chaos that followed the fall and death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the 2011 uprising, Libya has become a major transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to travel to Europe by sea on a perilous journey.

According to the United Nations, about 42,000 migrants are currently in Libya.

“We are working hard to find solutions for these people,” UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees Cosmas Chanda told a news conference in Addis Ababa, where the AU is based.

The Rwandan government appears ready to receive up to 30 thousand Africans from Libya, knowing that the plan provides for payments of 500 migrants each, to prevent pressure on the country’s potential.

Chanda said the number of “countries willing to receive refugees is declining.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame first offered to welcome Africans stranded in Libya in November 2017, the same month that a CNN report showed what appeared to be a slave market there.

The issue gained added prominence in July when more than 40 people were killed by an air strike on a migrant detention center in Tajura, near Tripoli.

– Lessons from Niger –

The United Nations has been criticized for its handling of the crisis of migrants stranded in Libya through a program to evacuate them to Niger.

Their facilities in Niger have been overcrowded as the pace of relocation is slow.

Rwanda and UN officials “have learned from the Niger experience and improved procedures,” Chanda said.

But he acknowledged that the process “will be too long.”

Rwandan delegate Tumukunde Gasatura said refugees and asylum-seekers will be staying in facilities used in the past for refugees from Burundi who fled during the political crisis in their country in 2015.

The African Union praised the agreement with Rwanda, saying it is “a model of how African governments move to solve the problems of the continent.”

“This is a historic moment because Africans are helping other Africans,” said AU Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira Fadel.

“We talked a lot about finding durable solutions. I think this is part of durable solutions.”

Officials hope other African countries will provide similar aid, although Fadel has confirmed there are no indications at the moment.

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