In a move that is a practical affirmation of African unity and inter-African brotherhood, the government of Rwanda has in the last two months received 189 African migrants who got stranded in Libya having crossed the Sahara Desert on their way to Europe. The migrants, including 59 minors, are part of the 500 the country promised to shelter under a Memorandum of Understanding it signed with the African Union [AU]and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Rwandan government agreed to provide asylum-seeker status to the migrants while their cases are being assessed and further solutions are pursued. This will include resettlement, voluntary return to countries of previous asylum, voluntary return to countries of origin where it is safe to do so and integration with local Rwandan communities. The AU is expected to provide overall strategic and high-level political support while UNHCR is bearing the cost of flights, the basic needs of protection while at the camp and humanitarian assistance.
This repatriation is part of a commitment by the Rwandan government to host African migrants who are stranded in strife-torn Libya following their inability to reach Europe. President Paul Kagame said that Rwanda offered to host them out of a conviction to do good and not to be applauded. He urged other African countries follow suit. Kagame said by giving shelter to African immigrants stuck in Libyan detention camps, the Rwandan government wanted to show leadership in providing African solutions to African problems. Most of the stranded migrants who arrived in Rwanda are from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.
The AU hailed the deal with Rwanda as an example of African governments stepping up to solve the continent’s problems. AU’s social affairs commissioner Amira Elfadil said, “It is a historical moment because Africans are extending their hands to other Africans. We kept on talking about finding durable solutions. My belief is this is part of the durable solutions.” She expressed the hope that other African countries step forward and offer similar assistance to stranded African migrants and refugees.
According to UNHCR, there are an estimated 5,000 African migrants under detention in Libya. Many of them, it is believed, are being subjected to abuses including rape, torture and forced labour. This is in addition to many other Africans trapped in the country after failing in their bid to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Some of them have been sold out as slaves by the various militias in the country. Many others lost their lives in the sea as their overloaded boats sunk while others spent days on the high seas as countries bordering the Mediterranean refused them entry after they were rescued.
Those who were lucky to arrive in Italy are being rejected asylum by many European countries and are, therefore, left stranded in makeshift camps. It is thus a welcome development to the UNHCR and AU that Rwanda has offered to take in some of these migrants. The Rwanda gesture is more poignant given the fact that this is a country which is still trying to recover from a genocide which saw the killing of nearly a million of its citizens twenty-five years ago. Rwanda is also hosting refugees running away from political turmoil in Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. It is, therefore heartwarming to see that there are still some African leaders who still believe in African brotherhood and go all out to demonstrate it in deeds. It goes to show to other African countries that they do not have to be rich to offer assistance to fellow Africans.
In a world that is now taken being over by xenophobia and protectionism, African countries need to move fast to follow the Rwandan example of being our brothers’ keepers. It is our hope that President Paul Kagame’s practical statement in African solidarity and brotherhood will be emulated by other African leaders.