ADDIS ABABA, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Rwanda, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the African Union (AU) on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees and asylum seekers out of Libya.
The first batch of 500 refugees and asylum seekers will be evacuated in the coming few weeks.
According to the agreement, Rwanda will receive and provide protection to refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as others identified as particularly vulnerable and at-risk, who are currently being held in detention centres in Libya, and they will be transferred to safety in Rwanda on a voluntary basis.
Speaking to the press conference after the signing of the MoU on the premises of the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Rwandan Ambassador to AU, Hope Tunukunde Gasatura, said the initiative is in line with the pledge made in November 2017 by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to make generous offer of receiving thousands of migrants stranded in Libya.
"Though the MoU covers 3,000, but Rwanda, we will receive 500 at a time, second, we can have enough time to prepare for them, and even other our partners, under the leadership of the AU can come and follow up and ensure that things are as they are supposed to be," the Ambassador said.
"We will be receiving the initial group of 500 in few weeks whenever the AU and the UNHCR and also partners like IOM and other stakeholders can support that we can have the initial group as stipulated in the MoU," she added.
The first group of 500 persons in need of international protection will be evacuated from Libya, and the group is principally made up of people originating from the Horn of Africa, and also includes children and youth at risk.
After their arrival, UNHCR will continue to pursue solutions for the evacuees, while some may benefit from resettlement to third countries, others will be helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, or to return to their home countries if it is safe to do so.
Some may be given permission to remain in Rwanda subject to agreement by the competent authorities, according to the agreement, and evacuation flights are expected to begin in the coming weeks, and will be carried out in co-operation with Rwandan and Libyan authorities.
The African Union (AU) will provide assistance with evacuations, mobilise resources, and provide strategic political support with training and coordination, while UNHCR will provide protection services and necessary humanitarian assistance including food, water, accommodation, education and healthcare.
During the joint press conference at the AU headquarters, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira Elfadil, and the UNHCR Representative to AU and UNECA, Cosmas Chanda, have commended Rwanda for the generous offer to receive the stranded refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, urging other AU member states to follow that same suit.
Elfadil, who is the AU special envoy on the situation of stranded migrants and refugees in Libya, said Rwanda's move gives signals to other AU member states to take similar measures, thereby finding African solutions for problems of the continent.
The UNHCR has urged the international community to contribute resources to the implementation of the agreement.
The UNHCR has evacuated more than 4,400 persons of concern out of Libya to other countries since 2017, including 2,900 through the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger and 425 to European countries through the Emergency Transit Centre in Romania.
However, some 4,700 persons of concern are currently estimated to be held in dire conditions inside detention centres in Libya, and they urgently need to be moved to safety and to be provided with protection, lifesaving assistance, and durable solutions.
Insecurity and chaos have been rampant in the North African country following the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi.