Rwanda Agrees To Host Migrants Trapped In Libya As EU Seeks To Outsource Problem
Muhammad Irfan 10 days ago Wed 11th September 2019 | 10:15 PM
Bearing in mind painful lessons of years of its open-door policy, the European Union is now weary of hosting scores of African asylum seekers trapped in Libya and tries to look for ways to outsource the problem of their processing and relocation to the region of their origin, this time, apparently, to Rwanda
On Tuesday, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC), the African Union (AU) and the Rwandan government sealed an agreement, under which the latter commits itself to evacuate asylum seekers who sought to get into Europe from Libya but got trapped in detention centers in the conflict-hit country. The nation is first expected to evacuate 500 migrants.
MIGRATION, THE KEY ISSUE OF EU POLITICS
Since the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, the European Union has been struggling to work out a common policy toward asylum seekers. At the onset of the crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel surprised every other member nation by declaring borders open for asylum seekers, first of all from war-torn Syria.
The result was a massive influx of more than 1.5 million asylum seekers, including many undocumented migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and others, to Germany and other EU nations, thanks to the Schengen agreement of free movement within Europe.
Europe has since been struggling with undocumented migration and failure to expel rejected asylum seekers.
An immediate political reaction has been soaring popularity of right-wing and so-called populist parties, who refuse undocumented migration and advocate tight border controls.
In Germany, in particular, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), created only in 2013, has become by far the country's third party, doubling or trebling its score in the latest elections in Brandenburg and Saxony and coming second in both states.
France's National Rally (RN) again came first in the 2019 European elections, ahead of the list of President Emmanuel Macron.
In other European countries, anti-migrant movements and parties have won the hearts of a large share of the electorate too. In Italy, for instance, the euroskeptic Lega party managed to form a short-lived government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, with its leader Matteo Salvini, with his harsh stance on migration, having become the most popular politician in the country.
Sputnik approached M5S to find out whether its stance on migration has changed since it split with Lega and formed the government with the Democratic Party. The party has confirmed that it still seeks more solidarity from the bloc and a review of the Dublin regulation, which stipulates that migrants must ask for asylum in the first country of arrival.
"The Italian borders are European borders, and what we have said all along is that the European 'Dublin regulation' is insufficient, and shows gaps that mean that Italy had to support alone the massive cost of the migrants' invasion since 2015 and even before. We are encouraged by the attitude of the new Italian government that wants the EU to solve the problems related to a failed European management of asylum seekers, with courageous and decisive measures. The 5-star Movement has always fought for a real, strong and authentic European solidarity," European Parliament member from M5S, Laura Ferrara, said.
She noted that the reform of the Dublin regulation "remains blocked at the European Council due to the lack of a common position among all Member States," but expressed hope that this impasse would be broken in the new legislature, given that "many political groups have converted to our positions."
LIBYA VIOLENCE TRIGGERED CREATION OF MIGRANT CENTERS IN AFRICA
Being unable to agree on redistribution of asylum seekers, the European Union has started paying third transit countries so that they would help stem the influx of undocumented migrants seeking to reach EU shores.
As part of these efforts, Brussels has pledged Turkey 6 billion Euros to keep undocumented migrants off Europe, started funding the Libyan Coast Guard to catch those embarking on the perilous sea journey and facilitated the creation of processing centers in Niger, far from the Mediterranean Sea.
As a new escalation of violence broke out in Libya, the nation that plunged into violence after France and the United Kingdom took down its longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, Europe has faced another dilemma as thousands of migrants got trapped in detention centers in coastal cities in inhumane conditions.
Against this backdrop, Rwandan president Paul Kagame reiterated his offer to host some of these asylum seekers. The proposal came after a July airstrike killed dozens of people in a detention center in Tripoli. Back then, UN agencies and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini welcomed this humanitarian gesture in a joint letter.
Just days before the deal on evacuation of migrants was signed, Diyana Gitera, the director general of the Rwandan Foreign Ministry's Africa Department, said that her country would take in 500 refugees from Libya under an emergency transit mechanism funded by the European Union and the United Nations.
Vincent Cochetel, the special envoy of the UNHCR for the Central Mediterranean situation, however later said that the issue of funding was yet to be settled, though he earlier told Reuters that it would come mainly from the European Union and the AU.
RIGHTS CONCERNS OVER RWANDA PLAN, EU'S REACTION
The European Union is, meanwhile, already facing growing criticism over the plight of migrants in Libya. The point is that the EU-equipped Libyan coastguard have strongly reduced the number of people trying to attempt the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, but those caught are sent to detention centers, where they live in deplorable conditions and face abuse, rape and torture, according to rights groups.
Marwa Mohamed, head of advocacy group Lawyers for Justice in Libya, told the Financial Times that it looks like "outsourcing the problem to another country," arguing that "the only viable long-term solution is for European countries" to offer migrants "legal routes" such as resettlement in Europe or "temporary working visas," so that "they don't need to submit themselves into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers."
Critics, such as the International Organisation for Migration are also concerned that the migrants evacuated to Rwanda as well as those who would enter the centers locally, coming from other countries of the region, such as Somalia or Sudan would be stuck in limbo, unable to go home or to travel onward to Europe, where they want to go.
Asked to comment on potential evacuation of migrants from Libya to Rwanda, the European Commission told Sputnik that "the EU is following the plans to establish a second emergency transfer mechanism in Rwanda and stands ready to consider supporting it."
The spokesperson noted that "following the combat escalation in and around Tripoli in Libya, the EU has and continues to support the vital Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli and UNHCR's work to transfer there the most vulnerable persons in need of international protection from conflict areas where they are at risk pending their evacuation out of Libya."
According to the commission, as part of the AU-EU-UN Task Force, more than 4,400 persons in need for international protection have been already evacuated from Libya and over 48,000 migrants have been assisted to return home voluntarily.
The European Commission also pointed out that "the EU is one of the main contributors to global resettlement efforts" and encourages its member nations to "speed up resettlements and to increase the number of resettlement places offered for persons in Libya or for evacuees in Niger."
"Resettlements to the EU are part of the current scheme funded by the EU to resettle 50,000 people in need of international protection, including from Libya and Niger, by the end of October 2019 supported by a financial envelope of EUR 500 million," the spokesperson added.
RIGHT-WING FORCES IN EUROPE WELCOME THE MOVE
According to Aldo Carcaci of Belgium's People's Party, Brussels had embraced the idea of such migrant facilities in Africa since there was not a single [European] country volunteering to host such a centre."
"So now, the EU comes up with complex ideas, such as this one: they want to airlift the 'refugees' (actually most of them illegal economic migrants) present in Libya to Rwanda, in Central Africa, where they have opened a new EU-UNHCR centre for asylum seekers. They have already moved some 2,900 migrants who were in Libya, some in jail, to Niger, just south of Libya. The migrants' files will be treated in these new centres: some will be allowed to go to Europe, but to what country? Nothing is fixed yet," Carcaci told Sputnik.
He added that the open-door policy resulted in a great number of undocumented migrants, rather than "real refugees." The politician stressed that "Europe does not need more unqualified people who are very difficult to integrate" and therefore expressed hope that migrant processing centers in Africa could help.
"This [undocumented migration] must stop. So, centres for asylum seekers must indeed by created and activated in Africa, but on a grander scale, and probably first in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and other countries where there are high numbers of illegals, trying to cross into Europe. It is up to Europe to make its centres in Libya safe, with military presence if need be," he concluded.
Gilles Lebreton, France's FN member of the European Parliament, similarly told Sputnik that "it is difficult to criticize this initiative, even if it seems a little strange to transfer from Libya to Niger or Rwanda, migrants arrived so close to Europe."
This policy, according to Lebreton, shows that "the electoral breakthrough of populist parties all over Europe" is obliging Brussels to revise the open arms immigration policy and "restrain" its position on the issue.
"It does not prevent that France gives every year a residence permit to 250,000 migrants, which is way too much," he remarked.
Europe, however, must go ahead with establishing such extraregional migrant processing centers to "discourage the illegal economic migration," the lawmaker concluded.