Rwanda welcomes first group of African refugees from Libya

This handout picture from Rwanda's Ministry of Emergency Management (MINEMA) taken on September 26, 2019, shows Rwanda's UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, senior protection officer Zahra Mirghani (C) welcoming the first arrival of 66 refugees and asylum seekers from Libya at the Kigali international airport in Kigali, Rwanda. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2019

Rwanda welcomes first group of African refugees from Libya

  • A UN official told AFP Wednesday that a subsequent flight carrying 125 people was planned for “between Oct. 10-12”

KIGALI: A group of 66 African refugees and asylum-seekers have arrived in Kigali from Libya, the UN said, the first of what could be thousands relocated from the north African country under a new program.
The move follows a pledge by President Paul Kagame in 2017 to offer a “home” to Africans after reports emerged of the torture, sexual violence and forced labor they suffer in Libya.
Earlier this month, Rwanda signed a deal with the African Union (AU) and the UN refugee agency UNHCR agreeing to take in African refugees and asylum-seekers stranded in Libya.
The Rwandan government has said it is prepared to accommodate as many as 30,000 evacuees, although the plan is for the program to unfold in batches of 500 to prevent the country of 12 million from feeling overwhelmed.
“Just landed!” the UN refugee agency wrote on its Twitter account as a first group of unaccompanied minors, single mothers and families landed in the Rwandan capital late Thursday.
The youngest passenger was a two-month-old girl born to Somali parents in Libya.
A UN official told AFP Wednesday that a subsequent flight carrying 125 people was planned for “between Oct. 10-12.”
They will be housed in a transit center in Rwanda before being resettled elsewhere unless they agree to return to their home countries.
“UNHCR will provide persons evacuated from Libya with shelter, education, food items, basic hygiene products and health care services,” Olivier Kayumba Rugina, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Emergency Management told AFP.
“After registration and gaining refugee status they will just get refugee IDs like other refugees.”
The new arrivals will be resettled at the Gashora Refugee Transit Center, located in Bugesera District, approximately 60 km from Kigali. The transit center was established in 2015 to host Burundians, about 30,000 of whom have transited the country to flee political violence in their homeland.
In the chaos that followed the fall and killing of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising, Libya became a key transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe.
The UN says some 42,000 refugees are currently in Libya.
Kagame first offered to take in Africans stuck in Libya after a CNN report showed what appeared to be a slave market there.
The issue took on new urgency in July when more than 40 people were killed in an air strike on a migrant detention center in the Libyan town of Tajoura.
The UN has been criticized for its handling of a transit mechanism for evacuees from Libya established in 2017 on the other side of the continent, in Niger.
The facilities there have struggled with overcrowding and the slow pace of resettlement.
But UN and Rwandan officials say they have learned from Niger’s experience.
While the influx of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to Europe has become a political flashpoint, countries in East Africa are often praised for their openness to those displaced by conflict in the region.
Uganda is host to around 800,000 refugees from war-torn South Sudan while countries in the region host hundreds of thousands of refugees from Burundi, Somalia and elsewhere.
At the end of 2018 the region hosted over four million refugees and asylum seekers, according to the UNHCR


Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

Updated 7 min 34 sec ago

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

MANILA: Virgilio Estuesta has picked through trash in the Philippines’ biggest city for four decades, and is noticing an unusually large amount of plastics during his daily trawl of about 15 km (9.3 miles).
Tough curbs re-imposed to combat a surge in daily coronavirus infections are squeezing income for the 60-year-old, as many of the junkyards and businesses in Manila that buy his recyclables have been closed since March.
Plastic items, such as bottles and containers, dominate the contents of the rickety wooden cart Estuesta pushes through the deserted streets, far more than metals and cardboard, yet the money they bring in is not enough to get by.
“It’s been really hard for us, it’s been difficult looking for recyclables that sell high,” he said.
“Recently we’ve been seeing a lot more plastics, but the problem is they don’t really sell high.”
Environmentalists say the Philippines is battling one of the world’s biggest problems stemming from single-use plastics, and ranks among the biggest contributors to plastic pollution of the oceans. It has no reliable data for its plastics consumption.
Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said consumers and businesses are now using yet more single-use plastics, in a bid to ward off virus infections.
“The pandemic has really increased plastic pollution,” she added. “Just because there’s a lot more people using disposables now, due to misconceptions and fears around transmitting the virus.”
Since March 16, Manila has experienced lockdowns of varying levels of severity, in some of the world’s longest and tightest measures to curb the spread of the virus.
They are taking a toll on Estuesta, who hopes to start earning soon.
“When you go out, the police will reprimand you,” he said. “I was stuck at home and had to rely on government aid, which was not enough. I had to resort to borrowing money from people.”