Migrants trapped in Libyan detention centres where many have been subjected to abuse would be evacuated to Rwanda under an emergency plan being discussed with international humanitarian agencies and the EU.
The proposal is part of an increasingly urgent effort to relocate thousands of migrants from Libya after a July air strike by forces opposed to the internationally recognised government in Tripoli killed dozens of people in a detention centre in the capital.
The Rwandan initiative stems from president Paul Kagame’s offer in late 2017 to accept up to 30,000 African migrants from Libya over several years, although it will initially involve a much smaller number of people. The EU is facing growing criticism over the plight of migrants as conflict worsens in Libya.
The EU-trained Libyan coastguard has been instrumental in stopping people making the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, but rescued migrants are then sent to detention centres. Human rights groups have documented multiple cases of rape, torture and other crimes at the facilities, some of which are run by militias.
But sceptics warn that evacuating migrants from Libya to Rwanda would not necessarily rescue them from their current limbo, unable to go home or to travel onwards. Marwa Mohamed, head of advocacy for Lawyers for Justice in Libya, a non-governmental group with offices in London and Tripoli, said the Rwanda plan risked “outsourcing the problem to another country”.
She added that the only viable long-term solution was for European countries to offer more pathways to migration, such as via resettlement or temporary working visas. “If you provide them with these legal routes, they don’t need to submit themselves into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers,” she said.
The UN estimates almost 5,000 migrants are in detention centres in Libya, about 70 per cent of them refugees and asylum seekers. The migrants earmarked for relocation are likely to be a mix of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors and stateless people.