The AU pledges to continue efforts to keep vulnerable refugees safe

African Union delegation visits Rwanda's Emergency Transit Mechanism centre, applauds the country for hosting vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya.

UNHCR staff accompany Amira Elfadil, the AU's Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian and Social Development (centre), as she and her delegation visit the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Rwanda.
© UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana

Tahani recalls her heart was filled with fear and anxiety as she boarded a flight to Rwanda, leaving behind her only daughter. Separated in Libya and unsure of her whereabouts, the 36-year-old single mother was forced to make the tough decision to leave her daughter behind.

Throughout the journey, she would occasionally glance at her 17-year-old daughter’s photo.

“I'd look at the photo and think, 'God, why did I leave in the first place?' And if we were to die, I should have just stayed there,” said Tahani.The Sudanese mother and her two young sons were among the first group of 66 vulnerable refugees – including 22 children separated from their parents – who were evacuated from Libya.

Despite her fears, Tahani felt a sense of relief as the plane touched down at Kigali International Airport.

“Rwanda is safe, we live a normal life here,” she said. “But whenever I remembered my daughter, I couldn't sleep because I worried that something had happened to her.”

Thankfully, Tahani was reunited with her daughter after she arrived on the fifth evacuation flight to Rwanda. They now live at the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre, established in September 2019 after a signed agreement between the Rwandan government, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the African Union, to provide protection to refugees and asylum seekers currently held in detention centres in Libya.

This month, an African Union delegation headed by H.E. Amira Elfadil, the AU’s Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian and Social Development, visited the centre to meet refugees like Tahani and to express solidarity with the people and government of Rwanda for their generosity in hosting vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya.

“This is my first visit to this facility, and I am very impressed with the services provided ­– a spacious centre with health services, water, sanitation and shelter. All the basic needs of refugees and asylum-seekers are being met,” she said.

The visit allowed the delegation to get a complete picture of the journey of refugees evacuated from Libya, their vulnerabilities, future aspirations, as well as protection and assistance services available at the center.

Cosmos Chanda, UNHCR’s Representative to the AU and UN Economic Commission for Africa, praised the people of Rwanda for their generosity and humanity in welcoming refugees evacuated out of a depressive situation in Libya.

“This is very promising, looking at the services available to residents. There is ample evidence that more has been achieved to ensure the physical protection of these traumatized refugees and asylum seekers,” he said.

He also called on governments to boost their resettlement programmes to accelerate the processing of cases while rebuilding hope for refugees who are eligible for solutions.

The original tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the AU and Rwanda was for a period of two years. During the visit, Commissioner Elfadil pledged support for its extension in order to keep more refugees out of danger.

“Our work is not yet done, and we are considering how to extend this agreement because we still need this facility as there are thousands of stranded refugees who need assistance,” she added.

Since the ETM’s establishment, 515 refugees and asylum seekers have been evacuated from Libya with five flights and over 200 people have been resettled to third countries. The sixth evacuation flight is planned for this April.

Edited by Caroline Opile in Nairobi, Kenya