PARIS (AP) — Rwanda agreed Tuesday to take in 500 refugees and asylum-seekers trapped in Libya under an agreement signed with the United Nations and African Union.
The deal comes after repeated allegations of dire conditions for migrants in Libya's detention centers, including beatings and other abuses, rape and a lack of both medical care and food. Many are intercepted in the Mediterranean by the EU-funded Libyan coast guard, which itself has been the repeated focus of abuse allegations.
The U.N. says its own center for migrants and refugees in Tripoli is becoming dangerously overcrowded as is its center for evacuees in Niger. The U.N. says around 4,700 people are being held in Libyan detention centers and around 1,000 in a separate U.N. facility in Tripoli.
Evacuation flights to Rwanda are expected to begin in the coming weeks. Under the deal, Rwanda would accept an initial group of 500 people who agreed to leave Libya, mostly from the Horn of Africa, and they would be housed in a center that has already been constructed 60 kilometers (37 miles) outside the capital, Kigali. They would be free to come and go from the center, according to Babar Beloch, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.
Rwanda, however, has a troubled past with refugees. Amnesty International said that in 2018, Rwandan soldiers fired on protesting Congolese refugees, killing at least 11.
Baloch said the world body is asking members to contribute to the Rwanda evacuation, with hopes it can be expanded beyond the initial 500 people. He didn't say what the budget would be or where the money came from for the initial departures.
"You could say that anything is better than being stuck in a Libyan detention center," said Jeff Crisp, a migration researcher at Oxford University. "These are pretty desperate people and this is a potential opportunity to get somewhere else."
But he cautioned that the deal raises numerous questions, including what choices the evacuees would have once they arrive in Rwanda, especially if they are refused refugee status or they aren't given permanent placement in another country. In Niger, just a fraction of people have found spots in Europe or elsewhere and the camp has been full for months.