500 refugees trapped in Libya to be evacuated to Rwanda

500 refugees trapped in Libya to be evacuated to Rwanda
Migrants are seen with their belongings in the yard of a detention centre for mainly African migrants, hit by an air strike, in the Tajoura suburb of Tripoli, Libya July 3, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 10 September 2019

500 refugees trapped in Libya to be evacuated to Rwanda

500 refugees trapped in Libya to be evacuated to Rwanda
  • The deal comes after repeated allegations of dire conditions for migrants in Libya’s detention centers
  • The UN says its own center for migrants and refugees in Tripoli is becoming dangerously overcrowded

PARIS: 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 UN says its own center for migrants and refugees in Tripoli is becoming dangerously overcrowded as is its center for evacuees in Niger. The UN says around 4,700 people are being held in Libyan detention centers and around 1,000 in a separate UN 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 UN 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.


Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
Updated 25 min 32 sec ago

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
  • In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season

BEIRUT: Death stalks the corridors of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where losing multiple patients in one day to COVID-19 has become the new normal. On Friday, the mood among the staff was even more solemn as a young woman lost the battle with the virus.
There was silence as the woman, barely in her 30s, drew her last breath. Then a brief commotion. The nurses frantically tried to resuscitate her. Finally, exhausted, they silently removed the oxygen mask and the tubes — and covered the body with a brown blanket.
The woman, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is one of 57 victims who died on Friday and more than 2,150 lost to the virus so far in Lebanon, a small country with a population of nearly 6 million that since last year has grappled with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season when restrictions were eased and thousand of expatriates flew home for a visit.
Now, hospitals across the country are almost completely out of beds. Oxygen tanks, ventilators and most critically, medical staff, are in extremely short supply. Doctors and nurses say they are exhausted. Facing burnout, many of their colleagues left.
Many others have caught the virus, forcing them to take sick leave and leaving fewer and fewer colleagues to work overtime to carry the burden.
To every bed that frees up after a death, three or four patients are waiting in the emergency room waiting to take their place.
Mohammed Darwish, a nurse at the hospital, said he has been working six days a week to help with surging hospitalizations and barely sees his family.
“It is tiring. It is a health sector that is not good at all nowadays,” Darwish said.
More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, and around 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the crisis-ridden country in recent months, according to the Order of Physicians. The virus is putting an additional burden on a public health system that was already on the brink because of the country’s currency crash and inflation, as well as the consequences of the massive Beirut port explosion last summer that killed almost 200 people, injured thousands, and devastated entire sectors of the city.
“Our sense is that the country is falling apart,” World Bank Regional Director, Saroj Kumar Jha, told reporters in a virtual news conference Friday.
At the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the main government coronavirus facility, there are currently 40 beds in the ICU — all full. According to the World Health Organization, Beirut hospitals are at 98% capacity.
Across town, at the private American University Medical Center — one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals — space is being cleared to accommodate more patients.
But that’s not enough, according to Dr. Pierre Boukhalil, head of the Pulmonary and Critical Care department. His staff were clearly overwhelmed during a recent visit by The Associated Press, leaping from one patient to another amid the constant beep-beep of life-monitoring machines.
The situation “can only be described as a near disaster or a tsunami in the making,” he said, speaking to the AP in between checking on his patients. “We have been consistently increasing capacity over the past week or so, and we are not even keeping up with demands. This is not letting up.”
Boukhalil’s hospital raised the alarm last week, coming out with a statement saying its health care workers were overwhelmed and unable to find beds for “even the most critical patients.”
Since the start of the holiday season, daily infections have hovered around 5,000 in Lebanon, up from nearly 1,000 in November. The daily death toll hit record-breaking more than 60 fatalities in in the past few days.
Doctors say that with increased testing, the number of cases has also increased — a common trend. Lebanon’s vaccination program is set to begin next month.
The World Bank said Thursday it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
Jha, the World Bank’s regional director, said Lebanon will import 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for 750,000 people that “we are financing in full.” He added that the World Bank also plans to help finance vaccines other than Pfizer in the Mediterranean nation.
Darwish, the nurse, said many COVID-19 patients admitted to Rafik Hariri and especially in the ICU, are young, with no underlying conditions or chronic diseases.
“They catch corona and they think everything is fine and then suddenly you find the patient deteriorated and it hits them suddenly and unfortunately they die,”
On Thursday night, 65-year-old Sabah Miree was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems. She was put on oxygen to help her breathe. Her two sisters had also caught the virus but their case was mild. Miree, who suffers from a heart problem, had to be hospitalized.
“This disease is not a game,” she said, describing what a struggle it is for her to keep breathing. “I would say to everyone to pay attention and not to take this lightly.”
A nationwide round-the-clock curfew imposed on Jan. 14 was extended on Thursday until Feb. 8 to help the health sector deal with the virus surge.
“I still have nightmares when I see a 30-year-old who passed away,” said Dr. Boukhalil. “The disease could have been prevented.”
“So stick with the lockdown ... it pays off,” he said.