Rwanda will take in refugees and asylum-seekers trapped in Libya under an agreement signed with the United Nations and African Union.
The agreement comes after repeated allegations of horrific conditions for migrants in Libya’s detention centres, including routine abuse, lack of medical care, and insufficient food, coupled with dangers from the ongoing conflict.
The United Nations has said its own centre for migrants and refugees in Tripoli is becoming dangerously overcrowded as is its centre for evacuees in Niger. Evacuation flights to Rwanda are expected to begin in coming weeks. Under the memorandum of understanding, Rwanda would accept an initial group of 500 people who agree to leave from Libya, most of whom originate from the Horn of Africa.
The U.N. estimates around 4,700 people are being held in Libyan detention centres.
The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, spent a rainy Sunday searching open waters for a fragile rubber boat overloaded with migrants before finally plucking 50 people to safety not far off Libya’s coast.
The Ocean Viking, which was already in the Libyan search and rescue zone of the central Mediterranean, received an email by Alarm Phone, a hotline for migrants. It was an urgent call seeking help for the rubber boat carrying 50 people without a working engine. Throughout the morning, the ship tried to contact Libyan officials without success.
At 2:30 p.m., the Libyan Coastguard finally answered the phone and the Ocean Viking reported that its crew was in the process of rescuing the migrants. As required by maritime law, the ship asked Libyan authorities responsible for rescue coordination in that part of the Mediterranean to provide a place of safety to disembark the rescued migrants, but it also made the same request to Italian and Maltese officials. There was no immediate response.
International migration and human rights bodies say Libya is not a place of safety, and Doctors Without Borders does not consider any North African country safe for disembarkation of the migrants.
Libya's coast guard says it has intercepted 108 Europe-bound migrants off the country's Mediterranean coast.
Spokesman Ayoub Gassim says the rubber boat with the African and Middle Eastern migrants, including 13 women and seven children, was stopped on Monday off the western city of Sabratha.
Sabratha is one of the biggest launching points for the mainly African migrants making the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea.
Gassim says the migrants were given humanitarian and medical assistance before being taken to a detention center in western town of Zawiya.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) confirmed in a statement that it had repatriated 148 Nigerien migrants from several accommodating centres in Libya to their country.
The statement clarified that four of the repatriated migrants were hosts of Tajuora shelter, which was bombed by the air-force of Khalifa Haftar, late last June.
The organisation confirmed that its teams on the ground have mobilised quickly to provide assistance to the migrants upon their arrival at Niamey Airport, in preparation for their transfer to their original home towns.