African Union Arranging Transfer of Migrants from Libya to Rwanda


On Saturday, the African Union (AU) announced that arrangements are underway to transfer thousands of illegal immigrants sheltering in Libya, to Rwanda. This is based on an agreement signed between the AU, Rwanda, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) according to Tunisia’s As-Sabah News Agency.

Under the agreement, signed on 10 September 2019, the UN is seeking to transfer illegal migrants and refugees living in dire conditions in Libya’s detention centers to a safer location. UNHCR provides support to more than 55,000 migrants in Libya, including 4,700 people who are “in urgent need of transportation for their safety,” according to a statement by the AU.

The first stage of the relocation will be moving 500 people originating from the Horn of Africa, including children and youth.

The herculean task is not free from obstacles. The African Union noted that since the signing of the tripartite agreement with UNHCR and Rwanda, only 190 people have been transferred to Rwanda in two phases, over the past three years.

On the other hand, UNHCR has managed to evacuate more than 4,400 people from Libya to other countries since 2017. This includes 2,900 through the emergency transit mechanism in Niger, and 425 to European countries through the emergency transit center in Romania.

Ahmed Hamza, the Head of the National Commission for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL), identified several factors contributing to the overcrowding of illegal immigrants in the country.

To his mind, “European policies push towards stemming Europe-bound migrant flows. When reaching EU waters, migrants are returned to Libya only to fall victim to the atrocities and crimes committed by human trafficking and smuggling networks,” Hamza argued.

The official called for “solidarity in international efforts to support Libya in protecting its southern borders – porous avenues for people from the heart of Africa to Libya, and then the shores of the Mediterranean sea and Europe.”

Hamza also highlighted the urgency of a “joint international effort to dismantle organized crime networks, and gangs dealing in human trafficking on Libyan territory.”

Following the security chaos that engulfed the country from the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, migrant detention centers have mushroomed in Libya.

Located mainly in western Libya, these centers are supervised by militias, which are also in control of that part of the country. Those in charge of the centers have been accused of cooperating with smuggling gangs, extorting or torturing migrants, and sometimes exploiting them in internal fighting.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has monitored “violations” against 5,000 immigrants in detention centers, according to statements by the head of the organization, Antonio Vitorino, earlier this month.

However, what the organization is most concerned about, according to Vitorino, is the “existence of unofficial detention centers that no agency is aware of,” pointing to the “importance of reaching an understanding with asylum countries to give immigrants an opportunity not to go to illegal immigration routes, which makes them vulnerable to smugglers and human traffickers.”