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Tue. Aug 4th, 2020

Libyan migrants in Rwanda stage a foiled protest under COVID-19 lockdown

Some of the asylum-seekers in the Gashora Refugee Camp in Eastern Rwanda (PHOTO/Courtesy)

By George Kalisa

“They gathered in their camp on Wednesday to organize a demonstration against the lockdown but authorities came in quickly and stopped it,” Elise Villechalane, the spokesperson of the United Nations Refugee Agency told AP.

Some 300 refugees evacuated from the Libyan Refugee detention centres to Rwanda last September, staged a foiled demonstration on April15 protesting the continued confinement in the Gashora emergency transit center, in Rwanda’s Eastern Province, UN Refugee Agency told reporters today.  

UN officials have attributed their uncorrelated and unbecoming action under the Coronavirus lockdown to grave trauma they suffered while in Libya’s refugee detention centres.

“We understand these refugees are stressed and some still have trauma from Libya, but they have to abide by these measures like other Rwandans,” Villechalane told reporters.

On March21, the Government of Rwanda ordered a lockdown and a curfew as one of the measures to mitigate the spread of the novel Coronavirus, nearly a week after it recorded the first Coronavirus case. Today, the country with the best health systems in the region has recorded 138 Coronavirus cases, majority of whom were imported from high risk countries, 60 recoveries and no single deaths.

The East African nation become the first one to legitimize a lockdown in Sub-Saharan Africa and the efforts have paid off in terms of saving lives of lives that would be at a greater rick, if there was a delay in enforcing a lockdown.

Just like the COVID-19, the measures in place require vigilance and compliance from both citizens and non-citizens.

Since they settled in their new home and before the pandemic was imported into Rwanda the refugees were allowed to mix with communities in the neighbourhoods with whom they played games including football as well as congregating in Mosques and Churches.

They ended up here following an agreement between Rwanda and the United Nations and African Union (AU), and were subject to utterly two prerequisite options – to either be resettled in a safe third country in the region or stay in Rwanda. The majority opposed this prerequisite and still live with the dream of resettling in Europe. 

Their improved living standards in the camp managed by UNHCR and threat of the catastrophe now stalking about 210 countries and territories with 2,206,676 confirmed cases and 148, 663 deaths, have however, not upended their dream of living in Europe where they were heading to before they met their fate in insecurity-ravaged Libya.

Now, eyewitnesses of the foiled April15 protest said there was a short-lived war of verbal exchanges between the outraged migrants and refugees and the authorities before calm descended to the refugee camp, with some praying to be allowed to return to their home countries.     

“Some of the refugees said they should be allowed to go back home to the countries of their origin,” said Jean Claude Habananimana, a coach of a refugees’ football team.  

Libyan asylum-seekers (PHOTO/Net)

What you need to know about the Gashora refugees  

The majority of migrants hail from the horn of Africa mostly from Somalia Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Late January, their hopes of living in Europe had been revived by the renewed commitment of countries like France, Canada, Sweden and Norway to receive them.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rwanda confirmed January21 through a tweet that these countries were ready to receive the refugees from Libyan detention centres.  

 “France, Canada, Sweden, Norway ready to welcome # refugees evacuated from Libya and who are today in a transit center in Gashora, in the south-east of #Rwanda” said UNHCR.

Before the Coronavirus started stalking the world, Sweden was ready to accept 150 asylum seekers, France 100, Canada 200 and Norway 450, enough to allow further evacuations from Libya according to Élise Villechalane of the UNHCR office in Rwanda, reported Radio France Internationale (RFI).

During the same time, the Norway Minister for International Development Mr.Dag-Inge Ulstein  visited Rwanda in connection with Norway’s contribution of NOK 50 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transit center, a visit that meant to many that Europe cared about their plight and kept their dream of living there alive.  

‘I have been very moved by the meetings I have had with the inhabitants of the Gashora Transit Center in Rwanda today. They have been living under atrocious and very dangerous conditions in Libya,’ said Minister Dag-Inge Ulstein.

Like fate may have it, the very countries where they wished to go and that had okayed their next destination are battling the coronavirus with alarming cases and rising death toll.

Hence, the resettlement of refugees from Libya has been overshadowed by unprecedented circumstances which they should appreciate.

In addition, they should appreciate that the lockdown, like elsewhere, has affected all the people living in Rwanda, nationals and non-nationals a fact which makes the plans to protest against it (unjustified).

The GoR in partnership with the UN and AU have put in place basics of life like water, electricity, furnished houses as well as a health centre among others, altogether speak volumes of Rwanda’s readiness and living spirit to express solidarity with the suffering lot of African brothers and sisters.

Above all, before the COVID crisis, the GoR allowed them to interact with the local communities and will continue to do so if the country returns to normalcy – for them to feel at home, a step that is beyond the requisite for refugees the world over. Hence, their protest was uncalled for.    

Rwanda experienced the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi just 26 years ago when over a million Tutsi were killed in a space of 100 days. The genocide ruined the economy to beyond-recovery levels and left behind a polarized society and a tattered economy.

The East African country after making leaps in unity and reconciliation and economic development it contributed to peacekeeping in the region. And, of recent it made a step forward by leading the international community in tackling the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers that were stranded in Libya.

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