France, Sweden to receive more African refugees from Rwanda

Refugees from Libya upon their arrival at Kigali International Airport on October 11, 2019. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.

France and Sweden have pledged to take in hundreds from the group of African refugees brought to Rwanda after they were trapped in Libya for years, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

After it was announced earlier this week that Norway was considering taking in up to 600 African refugees and asylum-seekers from Libya, some of whom are currently hosted at an Emergency Transit Centre (EMTC) in Bugesera District, it has emerged that more countries have expressed willingness to receive more refugees.

In an exclusive interview with Saturday Times on Thursday, Elise Laura Villechalane, the External Relations Officer at UNHCR Rwanda, said that France and Sweden have also pledged to take in more.

According to her, France has committed to receive about 150 refugees, while Sweden will take about 200, on top of the seven that have already been resettled Sweden.

So far, Rwanda is hosting 299 refugees and asylum seekers at the Gashora Transit Centre, and they are of different nationalities, mainly from the Horn of African countries of Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea.

More are expected to be brought at the facility that in its current state can accommodate up to 500 people.

We however do not have yet the date of the next flight,” she said.

The resettlement to new countries is expected to create more room for Rwanda’s EMTC to take in more refugees because thousands of others are still stuck in Libya.

Rwanda’s hosting of the asylum seekers is part of an agreement signed in September in Addis Ababa Ethiopia last year, where Rwanda agreed to set up a transit mechanism to host up to 500 refugees, asylum-seekers and other persons in need of protection who are trapped in Libya.

The deal was signed between the Government, the African Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management.

Villechalane said that when the refugees came into Rwanda, the UNHCR has been looking at how to help them with resettlement options and preparing their requests in line with what host countries may require.

Without specifying who is currently eligible for the resettlement slots available, Villechalane said that one of the main factors based on while making selection for each country’s resettlement programme is vulnerability.

This may cover where the refugee comes from and what they have been through.

She also highlighted that the resettlement countries consider burden-sharing as factor for receiving refugees.

For instance, as Norway is receiving some 600, other countries can look at assisting with carrying a portion of the remaining burden.

Here, Villechalane stressed that some of the slots from France and Sweden may end up being taken by fellow asylum seekers hosted in Niger.

Niger hosts a larger Emergency Transit Mechanism for African asylum seekers trapped in Libya. The UNHCR has evacuated close to 3000 asylum seekers to Niger’s EMTC.

How about the option of being settled in Rwanda?

Villechalane said that not all asylum seekers will be transferred to other countries, meaning the option of being integrated into Rwandan communities is still available.

She praised Rwanda as “generous” to have accepted to be a place to which the refugees were evacuated from the dire conditions in Libya.

She said Rwanda is “a humanitarian corridor” where these asylum seekers would be reached by humanitarian activities.

According to the terms of the Addis Ababa agreement, the Rwanda’s EMTC was established to temporarily host evacuees for their stay in Rwanda, while durable solutions, including repatriation and resettlement, or incorporating them in Rwandan communities are being identified.

hkuteesa@newtimesrwanda.com

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