By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA)- Rwanda Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the African Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), committing to establish an emergency transit mechanism in Rwanda for African refugees and asylum seekers.
Hope Tumukunde, Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the African Union, signed the MoU on her country’s behalf, while Amira Elfadil Mohammed -- Commissioner of Social affairs at the African Union Commission -- signed it on behalf of the African Union, and Cosmas Chanda -- the UNHCR representative to the African Union -- signed it on behalf of the UN refugee agency.
Under the agreement signed at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia, 500 African refugees registered by the UNHCR and others identified as particularly vulnerable and at risk, who are currently being held in detention centers in Libya, will be evacuated to Rwanda on voluntary basis, said the African Union representative.
The mechanism will serve as a temporary safe pathway while durable solutions are being sought.
Evacuation flights are expected to begin in the coming weeks and will be carried out in cooperation with the Rwandan and Libyan authorities, according to Tumukunde.
The African Union will provide assistance with evacuations, mobilize resources and provide strategic political support and coordination.
The signing of the MoU is a culmination of commitment by Rwandan government in 2017 to host African migrants stranded in North Africa.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame then committed to hosting African migrants following reports that tens of thousands of people from Horn of Africa, who had failed to connect to Europe, were stranded in Libya and "being sold in modern-day slave markets".
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) later said that "trading human beings" seemed to have been normalized with people being traded in public.
"The latest reports of 'slave markets' for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya]," said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies.
"The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants," he added.
Libya has been a major transit route for refugees from Africa trying to reach Europe by boat. But following the overthrow of country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, the country slid into violence with reports indicating that migrants, usually undocumented and with little cash, were particularly vulnerable.