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Grandi praises Rwanda for offering life-saving haven for refugees

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Somali refugees Abdulbasit and Zainab relax in their temporary home at the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Nyamata, Rwanda. © UNHCR/Will Swanson

In Rwanda, UN High Commissioner for Refugees visits facility providing safe route out of Libya for refugees and asylum-seekers, including Somali couple who faced detention and abuse

When Abdulbasit, his wife Zeinab, and their daughter were first evacuated from Libya to Rwanda in 2019, they were unsure what to expect. The couple had been through a harrowing ordeal. On their journey to find safety, the refugees from Somalia found themselves stuck in Libya, where they faced horrific abuse in detention.

“When we got to Libya, we were worried about being in detention and never having freedom,” said Zeinab. “I had heard that Rwanda was a safe place, and they were welcoming refugees.”

The couple and their daughter, who was born in Libya, were some of the first refugees and asylum-seekers to be evacuated to Rwanda under a life-saving humanitarian mechanism established nearly two years ago by the Rwandan government, the African Union and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supported by international donors such as the European Union.

They were brought to the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Gashora, Rwanda, where UNHCR provided them with accommodation, food, water, medical care, psychosocial support, and language classes.

Since that initial flight, some 515 refugees and asylum-seekers have been evacuated from Libya to the ETM. The group remains at the transit facility while long-term solutions are sought. From the group, so far at least 260 refugees and asylum-seekers have been resettled to countries including Canada, France and Norway.

During a three-day visit to Rwanda, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi went to the center and met with Abdulbasit and Zeinab, as well as other refugees, who described their journeys and how life has been in the ETM.

“I spoke to some unaccompanied teenagers; I spoke to a family from Somalia. Many of them have harrowing stories of abuse and torture, even of long detention and uncertainty, of despair, and this is a time when they can also try to overcome some of that trauma,” Grandi said.

The High Commissioner praised the Government of Rwanda as well as Niger, the other country welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers being evacuated from Libya, for their continued solidarity and generosity, giving hope to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Africa in dire need of protection and safety.

“I really want to particularly thank the Government of Rwanda,” said Grandi, who also met with the country’s president in Kigali during the trip. “It was President Kagame’s initiative to launch the ETM in Rwanda a few years ago, and of course we will continue to need this mechanism as long as the situation in Libya continues to be as difficult as it is now.”

For Abdulsabit and Zeinab, life in Rwanda has brought security and peace of mind. The couple recently welcomed a second daughter. After five years of constant flight, danger and uncertainty, Abdulsabit is hopeful that his young family will soon reach the next, and final, stop on their journey to a new permanent home.

“I am very happy,” Abdulsabit said. “As a father, I am responsible for my family. I was so worried because we have been waiting for our resettlement case. But I never gave up and I always told my wife also not to give up.”