By Alex Pollock


Hundreds of refugees trapped in Libyan detention centres will be evacuated to Rwanda as conflict rages in the north African nation, the United Nations said on Tuesday [10 September]. Vincent Cochetel, special envoy for the central Mediterranean for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said 500 refugees would be evacuated to Rwanda in a deal signed with the small east African nation and the African Union. “The agreement with Rwanda says the number can be increased from 500 if they are satisfied with how it works,” Cochetel [said] in an interview ahead of the official UN announcement. “It really depends on the response of the international community to make it work. But it means we have one more solution to the situation in Libya. It’s not a big fix, but it’s helpful.” Libya has become the main conduit for Africans fleeing war and poverty trying to reach Europe, since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011. (Reuters)

The Rwanda deal

Rwanda first expressed intent to provide asylum for those in Libya in 2017 after it was discovered that men in Libyan detention were being auctioned off as slaves. The first round of relocation will focus on those deemed most vulnerable, including children and youth, as well as the elderly and those with disabilities. They will be transported by airplane to a transit facility outside of Kigali, and the goal is to house them while options for future living arrangements are explored.

According to Cochetel, some evacuees will be resettled in other countries, some will be sent to countries where they previously were granted asylum, and – if deemed safe – some will return to their home countries. The evacuees will be granted legal refugee status, while the UNHCR will provide basic needs such as food, water, and health services. Funding will come from both the European and African Unions.

Rwanda is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries and is already playing host to over 150,000 refugees from neighbouring nations Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the second African nation to provide temporary sanctuary for those stranded in Libya – Niger has taken in just under 3,000 displaced people since 2017, but there have been setbacks in this programme, including very slow processing of displaced persons and very few resettlements.

Refugees in Libya

According to the UNHCR, there are currently 4,700 displaced people from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan living in Libya’s detention centres awaiting relocation. The deal came about after conditions in the refugee centres were deemed “deplorable” and “inhumane” by international aid agencies. The centres are run by a network of Libyan militias and have been reported to be havens of abuse, over-crowding, and forced labour. An airstrike in July killed dozens of detainees in a detention centre near Tripoli, the nation’s capital.

In July, the UN called for all detention centres in Libya to be dismantled, as they are “not fit to house migrants”. In the last month, Libya has announced plans to shut down three of its centres in Misrata, Tajoura and Kohms, which increases the risk of the already problematic over-crowding faced in the remaining centres.

But despite these plans, migrants continue to travel to Libya with the hopes of reaching Europe. Many that make the journey from Libya to Europe by boat are sent back once they reach European shores by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard, in an attempt to curb the number of refugees entering European countries.

Who’s hosting refugees

The European Union has faced criticism over the last three years for its “anti-migrant” policies, which include paying nations to keep migrants from getting to European shores. The EU has paid Turkey approximately $6 billion to keep refugees from entering Greece, and Italy has continued to reject migrants at its borders, imposing a $1.1 million fine for migrant ships docking at its ports. Fourteen nations have pledged to take in just over 6,000 people from Libya and Niger, but a review of the UNHCR’s data shows most of those countries have taken in less than a dozen displaced persons.

However, French president Emmanuel Macron has launched an initiative with eight other European nations to accept those deemed most vulnerable who have been rescued in the Mediterranean. On Monday 22 July, Mr Macron made the pledge after an EU meeting, and said he would be against releasing EU funds to non-cooperative nations. “Europe can’t be à la carte when it comes down to solidarity,” he said. “We can’t have states which say, ‘We don’t want any of your Europe when it’s about sharing the burden but we do when it’s about structural funds’.” According to BBC News, the comments were seen as “a clear warning to Hungary and Poland, whose governments have adopted hardline policies on migrants”.

The number of people crossing into Europe from Africa has decreased from 181,376 in 2016 to 23,485 in 2018, while the brunt of the refugee hosting duties has fallen on the world’s poorest and most under-resourced countries. According to Amnesty International, lower and middle-income nations host more than double the number of refugees as high-income nations.


While the term “refugee” wasn’t coined until the 17th century, the Bible has a lot to say about the treatment of foreigners. Not unlike today, foreigners in Bible times were often looked at with suspicion and were treated poorly by those whose native land they were inhabiting. However, over and over again, the Bible tells of people who defied popular culture by caring for those who were strangers, or instructs God’s people to do so.

Abraham invited visitors into his tent in Genesis, Exodus tells the Israelites to show kindness to foreigners as they themselves were once foreigners in Egypt, and the New Testament tells stories of people like the Good Samaritan who went out his way to help a stranger.

As every Christian was once a “foreigner” to the Kingdom of God before knowing Christ and being fully accepted by Him, the Church is told to show hospitality to those who find themselves foreigners in the physical world. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 – “I was a stranger and you invited Me in” – provide an example of how the Church worldwide should aim to respond to the global refugee crisis.



  • For believers in Rwanda to reach out to the refugees in their nation
  • For leaders in the country to prioritise compassion above economic and political concerns
  • For the Church in Europe to be energised in their efforts to minister to refugees