Life-saving evacuations from Libya supported by Danish funding

Hundreds of refugees have already been moved out of harm’s way in Libya, and to safety in Rwanda’s new transit center, which is supported by funding from countries like Denmark.

© UNHCR / Eugene Sibomana

Only a few years ago, Anwar* was living a good life in Mogadishu in Somalia, working with her sister as a hairdresser. But when her sister and her four children were killed by al-Shabaab in 2012, Anwar felt she had no other choice but to flee the country.

“I was not safe. My sister and her kids were killed. My husband left me and took our boy with him, all my hopes were swept away,” says Anwar who left with a group of other women and survived the 45 day journey through the desert that claimed numerous lives among her group. Once in Libya, things got even worse.

“Our journey ended in the hands of traffickers, and some of us were forced to prostitution or sex slavery … Libya was a hell for me, for all women … All the women were systematically and repeatedly raped,” she recalls.

Anwar and her five-month-old baby girl, born inside the detention center, were among the 117 vulnerable refugees evacuated by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, from Libya to Rwanda in late November.

Since September 2019, Rwanda has generously agreed to host a transit facility in Gashora as part of UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) and thus truly embodying the spirit of African solidarity. This contribution allows UNHCR to be able to continue the important evacuations of refugees from Libya. When the refugees are taken to safety in Gashora, they are accommodated and provided life-saving assistance, as well as medical care and psycho-social support by UNHCR.

Financial support to Rwanda and UNHCR’s operation in the country is necessary for the continued operation of the transit center. Recently UNHCR allocated USD 1.5 million (10 million DKK) from Denmark’s Emergency Reserve Fund to help support the operation in Rwanda.

An estimated 4,500 refugees who have fled war, violence and persecution in their home countries are still at risk in Libya. They risk being caught up in the conflict and continued clashes – in July, more than 50 refugees and migrants were killed in an airstrike on Tajoura Detention Center close to Tripoli. And they risk being subjected to horrific forms of abuse and human rights violations in the hands of human smugglers or in the appalling conditions in Libyan detention centers.

So far, three evacuations to Rwanda have taken place. The groups of vulnerable refugees include babies born in Libyan detention centers, some only a few months old, a high number of unaccompanied minors who have been separated from their parents, and survivors of torture. The majority is of Eritrean background, but refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan have also been evacuated to Gashora.

Other UNHCR evacuation flights from Libya have taken refugees to a similar transit center in Niger, which has been operating since November 2017. In addition, a smaller number of refugees have been evacuated directly for resettlement in European countries. In 2019, UNHCR has helped a total of 2,141 refugees and asylum-seekers to find solutions outside of Libya.

“As the violence and unrest have been intensifying in Libya, and thousands of refugees are still at risk in the country, the evacuations of the most vulnerable refugees are more urgent than ever. This mechanism is only possible with the generosity of the countries hosting the transit centers as well as countries like Denmark who provide the essential financial support. This contribution truly saves lives,” says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Regional Representative for Northern Europe.

More humanitarian flights out of Libya are planned for the months to come.

Like other refugees hosted in Rwanda, evacuees from Libya are provided with safe refuge and have the right to access medical care, school and work. Through livelihood projects and skills & language training programs, they will acquire the abilities that will help them to get their lives back on track and build a brighter future.

For the single-mother Anwar, Rwanda means safety, freedom and prospects for her young daughter:

“It is a great privilege to breath an open air like this. I spent many months locked inside buildings. I am grateful for everything … My wish is to be in a safe place with my baby. I pray for her to get quality education, study hard and become a pediatrician.”

*Name changed for protection reasons.

Rwanda. Third evacuation flight from Libya to Rwanda lands in Kigali

“It is a great privilege to breath an open air like this. I spent many months locked inside buildings. I am grateful for everything," says Anwar after she was evacuated from a detention center in Libya. © UNHCR / Eugene Sibomana

Rwanda. Young refugee mother returns from Libya in search of safety once more

The 20-year old single mother Anwar fled Somalia but was caught in the hands of human smugglers in Libya. Her five month old daughter was born in a detention center, but they have now been evacuated by UNHCR to the Gashora Transit Facility in Rwanda. © UNHCR / Eugene Sibomana

Rwanda. Third evacuation flight from Libya to Rwanda lands in Kigali

The third group of vulnerable refugees are evacuated by UNHCR to Rwanda for accommodation in the transit facility in Gashora, operating since September 2019. © UNHCR / Eugene Sibomana

Denmark as a donor to UNHCR

Denmark has long ranked among UNHCR’s top ten donors. In 2019, Denmark has increased its overall funding to UNHCR, already totaling USD 92 million (up from USD 82 million in 2018). Each year, around USD 25 million of Denmark’s funding is provided as completely unearmarked flexible funding.

Within its overall funding, Denmark annually contributes with an Emergency Reserve Fund of DKK 50.5 million (around USD 7.5 million) at the start of each year, which UNHCR can allocate towards the most urgent needs. The flexibility of the fund allows UNHCR to respond to emergencies, which saves lives and assists displaced people with critical protection needs and acute basic necessities.