Africa: Norway Welcomes 600 African Refugees 'To Send a Strong Message'

10 January 2020

Norway has agreed to take 600 asylum seekers to help stop the often deadly trafficking of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea. DW has learned up to 11 of them have already left for the EU.

Norway on Wednesday agreed to open its doors to 600 asylum seekers who had been evacuated to Rwanda from detention centers in Libya.

The 600 people are part of a group of 800 migrants who had been moved to Rwanda from Libya under a September agreement between Rwanda, the African Union (AU) and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Many are from Horn of Africa nations and have been given temporary asylum-seeker status until the UNHCR determines their refugee status.

Norway wants to stop the deadly smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea, said Joaran Kallmyr, the country's immigration minister.

"For me it is important to send a signal that we will not back smuggling routes and cynical backers, but instead bring in people with protection needs in organized form."

"It's a relief to them," said Alex Ngarambe, DW's correspondent in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

"The first time I spoke to some of them, there were not happy. They said Rwanda is not their final destination. They did not want to stay here any longer."

Screening underway

UNHCR told DW that up to 11 of the asylum seekers have already departed for Europe.

"The process is ongoing, there is going to be a lot for screening," Ngarambe reported.

"The children will be the first priority to leave and then the women. The screening process is to verify those who are supposed to go immediately and those who will go later."

The European Union has been trying to close the route across the Mediterranean since the 2015 massive influx of migrants. Thousands of people have died at sea while trying to reach Europe. Many set off from Libya's coast.

Migrant quotas

The UN estimate that about 4,700 people seeking refuge are thought to be in Libyan detention centers - some of them run by militias and under siege amid civil war.

The EU's common asylum system, the Dublin II regulations, established a quota system for the distribution of refugees and asylum-seekers among its members. But some EU member states are reluctant to take in more refugees.

So far only Norway and Sweden have offered to take some of the refugees under the resettlement program signed between Rwanda, the AU and UNHCR.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said Wednesday that Sweden has already taken in seven.

Kallmyr's anti-immigration Progress Party agreed to accept a total of 3,000 refugees from UN camps in 2020 as part of a compromise last year among Norway's four-party government coalition.

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