Rwanda was not paid to offer a sanctuary to hundreds of African refugees and asylum-seekers who are expected to arrive in the country in the coming weeks, the Minister for Emergency Management has said.
Germaine Kamayirese was yesterday briefing journalists in Kigali on the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Government, the African Union (AU) Commission, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding the evacuation of refugees and asylum-seekers out of Libya.
Rwanda’s representative to the African Union, Amb. Hope Tumukunde, signed on behalf of Kigali, while Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil, the Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, and Cosmas Changa, the UNHCR representative to the AU, signed for their respective organisations.
Kamayirese said that the intervention is purely on humanitarian grounds and was taken in consultation with several stakeholders in refugee affairs, and it was not transactional in any way.
She was reacting to reports by a section of international media outlets that Rwanda was receiving payments from the European Union to take in the refugees.
“This refugee problem is a challenge facing fellow Africans. We should not always wait for external help to save lives, any African country in position to can step in and help,” the minister said.
Under the framework that was signed, UNHCR will cover the cost of hosting the refugees, with the first group of 500 refugees set to be evacuated to Rwanda from Libya in the “coming weeks”. “The group is principally made up of people originating from the Horn of Africa and includes children and youth at risk.”
The MoU marked the establishment of an Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Rwanda – Gashora Reception Centre in Bugesera District.
As part of the agreement, on their arrival to Rwanda, UNHCR will continue to pursue solutions for the refugees.
This could be in the form of third country relocation, repatriation, or integration in Rwanda, according to a joint statement released by the three parties to the agreement.
The deal was signed at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“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,” the statement reads in part.
Some may be given permission to remain in Rwanda subject to agreement by the competent authorities, it adds.
The development follows a commitment by the Government in 2017 to host thousands of migrants who were trapped in Libya, as European nations stepped up migrant controls.
Under the framework, the “Government of Rwanda will receive and provide protection to refugees and asylum-seeker, as well as others identified as particularly vulnerable and at-risk, who are currently being held in detention centres in Libya,” according to a joint statement released after the signing Tuesday morning.
Speaking in Kigali moments after the agreement was signed, UNHCR representative to Rwanda Ahmed Baba Fall said they were currently in the process to renovate the reception centre in Gashora.
The facility, which has been in existence for about for years now, has previously served as transit centre for refugees from Burundi.
The centre will be equipped with ideal accommodation facilities, school blocks, health posts, and water, sanitation as well as electricity.
The evacuations will be on voluntary basis, he said, adding that the evacuees will be required to sign a consent form committing to abide by the law and culture of the host country.
Kamayirese said Kigali’s offer to host the refugees was informed by appreciation of the dire situation that the African refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya face.
The agreement paves way for Rwanda to become the third country after Niger and Romania to receive refugees and asylum-seekers from Libya.
Fall said they hope that Rwanda’s intervention will inspire more African countries to do the same.
He said there is an estimated 800,000 African migrants in Libya.
UNHCR has evacuated more than 4,400 refugees and asylum-seekers 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.
The UN agency says there are some 4,700 people still in dire conditions inside detention centres in Libya and urgently need to be moved to safety and to be provided with protection, lifesaving assistance, and durable solutions.
Rwanda currently host about 150,000 refugees.Follow https://twitter.com/ByCollinsMwai