13.09.2019 Libya

Refugee crisis in Libya and Niger making slow headway, says UN

Thousands of migrants are stranded in Libya.  By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP)
LISTEN SEP 13, 2019
Thousands of migrants are stranded in Libya. By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP)

Countries are only "slowly" making headway in meeting promises to relocate stranded refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya and Niger, a senior UN official says.

Nearly 48,000 people are in Libya, some of whom are being held in detention camps, according to UN figures, while thousands of others have been evacuated to neighbouring Niger, where they are waiting in transit camps.

So far, 6,606 of them have received a promise of permanent relocation in a third country.

Pledges have been made by Belgium, Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

But in an interview with AFP, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' special envoy for the central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, said only "close to half of these pledges have been met."

Cochetel was speaking this week on the sidelines of a meeting in the Malian capital Bamako which gathered international experts and African ministers on forced displacement in the Sahel.

"It's going slowly for several reasons," he said.

"Countries are not speeding up their processing or may have the impression that when people (leave Libya) and arrive in Niger, that the emergency is over."

Cochetel acknowledged also that the UNHCR also faced the time-consuming task of verifying that applicants were suitable for relocation.

"Some of those people who have turned back from Libya believe that they have an automatic right to being relocated. From our point of view, it (relocation) is a solution for many of them, not all of them."

"There is no priority ticket for relocation for those who go to Libya," he added.

"Many Eritrean refugees who are waiting in camps in Ethiopia, Sudan, have in our opinion just as much right to relocation."

Cochetel also paid tribute to two African countries -- Rwanda and Niger -- which have offered to be a transit site for refugees from Libya.

Rwanda on Tuesday agreed to take in an initial batch of 500 -- a figure that could potentially rise to thousands. The first group will mainly comprise people originating from the Horn of Africa.

"Many countries tell us that they already have refugees, and ask us why should they take more, even those in transit," Cochetel said.

"But Niger, and now Rwanda, have said that they cannot be indifferent to the suffering that Africans have endured in Libya.

"And instead of doing like all the other states which say 'Something must be done,' Rwanda and Niger have said, "We are going to try to do something, modestly, to the extent that we can, to show an example and save some lives."

"We are inviting other countries to join them, to join Romania, Rwanda, Niger, but it's hard to negotiate.

"It takes time and it costs a lot. Above all, it must not happen to the detriment of other refugees who are in those countries."

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