Rwanda will soon receive refugees from Libya following the signing of an agreement between government, the African Union (AU) Commission, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The agreement, among other things, saw the establishment of an Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) for the evacuation of refugees and asylum-seekers out of Libya.
The New Times’ Collins Mwai answers some questions about the agreement.
How did Rwanda get involved in this?
The then Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, while on official duty in the United Arab Emirates, was approached by Libyan officials who wanted her to inform President Paul Kagame on the harrowing revelations that the immigrants were being sold openly in modern-day slave markets in Libya.
On informing the President, Rwanda began looking into the issue and involving other stakeholders such as the African Union in an attempt to seek a solution.
How did this unfold?
In November 2017, the Rwandan government made the commitment after realising the dire state thousands of African immigrants were caught up in in Libya. It emerged that African refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Western Africa, were exposed to all forms of abuse, including being sold openly in slave markets in the Northern Africa country.
Despite not having much resources, Rwanda offered logistical support for those willing to return to their countries of origin and give sanctuary to those not willing to return to their home countries. At the time, Rwanda reached out to the African Union offering to support up to 30,000 refugees.
What is in for Rwanda?
Rwanda is not involved in the mechanism for any financial gain and is purely doing it on humanitarian grounds. The Minister in Charge of Emergency Management Germaine Kamayirese said that there is no financial gain, noting that African problems and challenges need not to always wait for foreign intervention.
She said that Rwanda’s intervention was in line with national values of not turning a blind eye to the plight of the refugees with a large section of Rwandans having been refugees at one point in their lives.
Where will the refugees be settled?
The refugees will be settled in Gashora Reception Centre in Bugesera District. It’s not a new camp and has been in existence for about 4 years and was previously used for Burundian refugees. The camp is currently undergoing renovation and refurbishment in readiness for the refugees. Among the facilities that will be on-site include water and sanitation, education facilities, security services, health facilities among others.
What’s the fate of the refugees once in Rwanda?
Once in Rwanda, the agreement stipulates that UNHCR will be pursuing an ‘exit’ strategy or solution for them dependent on what each one is eligible for. Some may benefit from resettlement to third countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world while others will be helped to return to their home countries if it is safe to do so and if they wish to.
Some could end up staying in Rwanda and be integrated subject to international and national laws.
Who will shoulder the costs?
As per the Memorandum of Understanding, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will meet all cost related to providing shelter, education, food items, basic hygiene products and health care services as well as related costs. AU will cover logistics costs in the process to get the refugees to Rwanda.
UNHCR Representative to Rwanda Ahmed Baba Fall told The New Times that they are yet to establish the exact cost implications as it will depend on the profile of the arriving refugees and their needs. He said that the cost of maintenance is dependent on the profile of refugees and their needs.
What are their rights and freedoms?
The refugees will not be forced to come to Rwanda under the mechanism. Those who will come to Rwanda will do so out of their own choice.
The refugees will also sign a consent form in agreement that they are ready to abide by the law and culture of the country.
Is Rwanda likely to take in more?
According to the Minister of Emergency Management, Germaine Kamayirese, this is the start. The country’s commitment and intention to facilitate and help refugees still stands.