Rwanda could host up to 30,000 African immigrants currently stuck in Libya where they are exposed to all forms of abuse, including being sold openly in slave markets in the Northern Africa country.
Speaking to The New Times, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Rwanda is currently in talks with the African Union Commission to determine the entire extent of intervention to the crisis.
Rwanda’s intervention comes amid harrowing revelations that the immigrants, most of them from West Africa, are being sold openly in modern-day slave markets in Libya.
Mushikiwabo said Rwanda, despite not having much resources, was stepping in to offer logistical support for those willing to return to their countries of origin and give sanctuary to those not willing to return to their home countries.
Noting that the country was not oblivious to the financial resources and other costs that could come with the decision, she said it would be against national values to turn a blind eye to the plight of the immigrants.
“What I expect and know is that Rwandans will welcome these people. As Rwandans we are sensitive to people who are helpless and have no way of protecting themselves. It is something that is deep in ourselves, we take pride in human beings,” said Mushikiwabo who is also the Government Spokesperson.
Cost implications and exact modalities are yet to be determined as the issue is recent and still being discussed.
The implementation of the relief exercise could see Rwanda dig into its contingency budget as well as mobilise resources needed for the process.
“Any country usually has contingency plans, but we also know that there is money available out there that we can mobilise for something like this. We also know some Rwandans that are happy to help. It’s a question of planning,” she said.
“It takes means to take care of people, to provide them food and shelter and give them a normal life. That is the part that we have to work on, but judging by the reception so far, most people in the country are happy to be of help. We are not ready to take in all the 400,000 immigrants but we are willing to play our part.”
So far, discussions between Rwanda and the AU Commission have agreed on 30,000 immigrants, which could be revised depending on how the talks proceed.
How Rwanda came to offer sanctuary
Explaining how Rwanda got involved in the issue, Mushikiwabo said she first got word of the state of affairs about three weeks ago while on official duty in the United Arab Emirates.
“Some people present at the meeting made this known to me and wanted me to inform the President (Paul Kagame). Even as Libyans, the state of affairs was a shame to them and required an intervention.
“When I returned, I informed the President and we began looking into the issue and gathering information,” she said.
The process will see several national agencies form a synergy to transport and accommodate the immigrants.
Among those who will be involved include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Public Service and Labour, and the Private Sector Federation for job placements.
“Any citizen who wants to be part of this is welcome. We have been approached by some African business people who want to do something about it and they do not own land, I am sure that with the combination of all these efforts, we will be able to help out a small number out of the 400,000 immigrants,” she told The New Times.
The immigrants, who hail from Niger, Senegal, Cameroun and Nigeria, among others, found themselves trapped in Libya, as they tried to cross into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
Some of these people are being sold at a paltry $400, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, Mushikiwabo shed light on the ongoing negotiations between Rwanda and Israel on accommodating refugees from Africa who are seeking asylum in the Middle Eastern nation.
She said the two countries are yet to reach a conclusion and talks have been going on for a while now.
“We have had discussions with Israel on receiving some of the immigrants and asylum seekers from this part of Africa who would be willing to come to Rwanda. If they are comfortable to come here, we would be willing to accommodate them. How it’s done and their livelihoods once they are here are details that have not been concluded yet,” the minister said.
The negotiations include input by Israel to the welfare of the refugees, such as accommodation and wellbeing.
“I think what we are looking for is for any migrant coming to settle here to have the minimum basics to have housing, to be able to stay in the country long enough while finding a job or setting up a business. We expect everyone to have a minimum of shelter. We do not envision people to come here and stay in camps. We envision giving them a normal life,” she said.
The number of immigrants from Israel that could be resettled in the country is around 10,000.
“I do not have the numbers but from the discussions with Israel a while back, it had to be something around 10,000 or a bit more than that and we were comfortable with that,” Mushikiwabo said.
This would not be the first time that Rwanda is taking in immigrants or asylum seekers, including from Asian countries, according to the minister.
“We have a very progressive and open policy when it comes to people living and settling in this country. We are very aware of the financial burden and the need for people to have a good life. To a certain measure within what we have. Nobody should feel like they have no country to live in, especially those who are close to us,” Mushikiwabo added.
Most of the illegal immigrants in Israel that are being considered are from Sudan and Eritrea.