Rwanda: Refugees From Libya - Over 20 Are Unaccompanied Children

Some of the evacuees who arrived in Kigali aboard a chartered plane from Libya.
28 September 2019

At least 26 of the 66 African refugees and asylum-seekers who arrived in Rwanda from Libya, on Thursday, are children, almost all of them unaccompanied, according to UNHCR.

The group also includes a two months old baby born in Libyan detention.

They are Sudanese, Somali and Eritreans and they are the first to benefit from the Emergency Transit Mechanism, recently agreed upon by the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the African Union.

The group is the first batch of the 500 evacuees that Rwanda pledged to receive as part of the efforts to rescue thousands that are suffering gross human rights abuses in detention camps in the North African country.

UN estimates show there are 42,000 refugees in Libya.

Many of them endured torture and other forms of abuse following failed attempts to reach Europe via the deadly Mediterranean Sea.

Upon arrival, UNHCR says they were registered and provided with documentation, before being taken to a transit centre in Gashora some 60 kilometres south of the capital, Kigali.

Here, the UNHCR will provide them with accommodation, food, water, kitchen sets, blankets, mosquito nets and other core relief items.

Asylum-seeker status

"The entire group has been granted asylum seeker-status, pending an assessment of their refugee claim by UNHCR. They have the same rights as other refugees in Rwanda, including access to education and healthcare, and freedom of movement and to work," reads a statement from UNHCR.

UNHCR said that a team of nine health professionals, including a psychologist, will work alongside counselors specialised in working with children and survivors of sexual violence to provide health care and assist the evacuees who survived torture, sexual violence and human rights abuses during their time in Libya.

All the evacuees will also be invited to attend language and vocational training classes to help them integrate with local communities during their time in Rwanda; whereas further solutions will then be pursued for them, including resettlement in third countries for some.

"Other solutions include voluntary return to countries where they had previously been granted asylum, return home if safe and voluntary, or integration into local Rwandan host communities," the statement read.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR estimates that US$10 million will be spent on the initial investment towards supporting the refugees to resettle through the end of the year.

This includes the cost of running the Emergency Transit Mechanism between Libya and Rwanda, renovation of existing structures and construction of new ones, as well as basic aid and services for the evacuated refugees.

In a statement, the UNHCR said that it is using flexible funding for the Rwanda ETM, which was not budgeted at the beginning of the year, and is actively soliciting additional donor support.

Second evacuation expected "in weeks"

Meanwhile, UNHCR said that a second evacuation flight is expected in the coming weeks as the agency continues "every effort to get vulnerable refugees in Libya out of harm's way and to safety."

"Faster and increased evacuations and initiatives, such as the Emergency Transit Mechanism, are urgently needed," the agency said in a statement.

"UNHCR urges the international community to support Rwanda's gesture of solidarity with refugees by providing financial support and resettlement places."

Speaking at the reception of the refugees, Ahmed Baba Fall, the UNHCR Representative to Rwanda, referred to the gesture as "a fantastic demonstration of solidarity from the Rwandan government and the Rwandan people."

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