Europe-bound African migrants wait in Rwanda for ‘A better life somewhere else’

At the United Nations emergency transit centre next to a serene lake south of Rwanda’s capital, the quiet mood was broken by the sobs of a group of female migrants from Ethiopia.

“They were evacuated from Libya, but they don’t want to live here,” said a UN refugee agency translator.

“Brighter future is not only resettlement in Europe,” said Elise Villechalane, a UNCHR spokesperson in Rwanda. “Brighter future can mean, I don’t know, maybe resettlement elsewhere.”

She then halted an interview with reporters to attend to the crying migrants whom she said were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the camp, Rwanda is hosting 189 asylum-seekers who began arriving in September from Libya, where they were evacuated from detention centres. Another 120 are expected to arrive in November in the tiny central African nation.

The group in the transit centre includes single mothers, unaccompanied children and families from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. They have been given asylum-seeker status while the agency determines whether they are refugees.

Rwanda, which at one time in 1994 had over 2 million of its citizens displaced after a genocide, signed a deal with UNHCR in September that is meant to help resettle people detained while trying to reach Europe.

Villechalane of UNHCR said that around 3 000 migrants are still thought to be in detention in Libya, where authorities are trying to close the route across the Mediterranean Sea that has seen thousands of people perish trying to reach Europe.

She called on other countries to follow Rwanda’s example.

Migrants interviewed by Reuters spoke of being detained in underground cells in Libya, having survived attempts to cross the Mediterranean that were thwarted when their boats were intercepted by coast guards and sent back to North Africa.

“Rwanda is not like Libya, but all of us need another step,” said 18-year-old Abdullah Rodwan, from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. He fled Sudan in 2016 with a group of 300 young men. Many died, either in the desert or at sea, he said.

Rodwan arrived by UN-chartered plane two weeks ago and said he was anxious for word on where he might be resettled.

“I hear people say that we might get a chance to live in Africa but, you know, Africa today is good but tomorrow it can easily be bad. That’s why we need a better life somewhere else.”