Taarifa Rwanda

Kagame Explains Why Rwanda Chose To Host Refugees From Libya

Ever since it was announced that Rwanda would be hosting refugees relocated from detention centers in Libya, the mainstream media and critics have been accusing Rwanda of somehow benefiting from this humanitarian decision.

The first batch of 66 refugees arrived in Rwandan on September 26, 2019.

They included a baby born in Libyan detention just two months earlier, and 26 refugee children without a family member or parent. 

These refugees who come from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrean were so glad to arrive in Rwanda and safety, that one of them kissed the tarmac, upon his descent from the plane that brought them.

More 123 refugees arrived on Thursday October 10, 2019.

No country has come forward to accept the thousands of refugees stranded in Libya, except Niger, that accepted about 700; but their facilities are dealing with overcrowding and cannot easily take in more refugees, yet the UN says some 42,000 refugees are currently stuck in Libya.

As said by Cosmas Chanda (UNHCR’s representative to the AU) to the East African, Rwanda’s decision to take in up to 30,000 refugees, was timely and needed: “We have been desperately searching for solutions for those people, fewer countries around the world are more than prepared than Rwanda to admit refugees.”

The first batch is composed of 500 refugees. 188 have already been settled.

The reason these refugees were so desperate to be relocated from Libya, is the horrible conditions in which they were detained in the now-infamous Libyan Migrant Detention Centers. 

On top of daily abuses including torture, sexual violence and human rights abuses, recent fighting between rival factions in the Libyan civil war, led to a detention center being bombarded from the air, killing dozens of refugees.

How did Rwanda come in?

President Paul Kagame first offered to take in African refugees detained in Libya back in November, 2017. 

At the time, videos of African migrant being openly sold in slave markets had surfaced and were shown by many news outlets.

Worse than that, horrific revelations of the refugees being traded for cheap dollar evoked bad memories on the continent.

The images, reminiscent of the Atlantic slave trade in previous centuries, hurt the dignity and self-respect of many Africans, including President Kagame and Rwandans.

Yet, despite all of the above, this narrative that somehow the West has a monopoly on humanitarian actions, and that Africans are incapable of doing anything out of the goodness of their hearts keeps being pushed.

It is probably to answer these claims, that on September 9, 2019, on the first day of the YouthConnekt Summit, President Kagame had to draw clear lines indicating where Rwanda belongs on this matter.

“Rwanda is not a very wealthy country in material terms, but Rwandans are healthy and wealthy at heart and in their ambition,” he said.

The country is already hosting hundreds of thousands of other refugees from neighboring countries, and they are provided with everything provided to Rwandan citizens: schools, health, and other things. 

When Rwanda saw these refugees dying daily, the country decided to intervene. 

“It relates to the way we are taught lessons by some aspects of our history; so we told those we needed to tell that you know while these people have not reached where they want to go, we can provide an alternative that is not the best or perfect,” Kagame told about 8,000 Youths from African countries attending a conference that is advancing the creation of a crop of forward-thinking Africans for the future.This is what President Kagame emphasized: “We gave a proposal to them and said, bring these people to us and then we work together to address the problem. We can provide a place where they can wait in safety as somebody works on how to get them in Europe instead of being caught up there and being killed every day.’’

In the agreement reached between the Rwandan government, the UNHCR, AU and EU, Rwanda agreed to host the refugees and provide an environment where they can live with dignity, as they wait for their asylum claims in Europe to be processed. 

Besides, they are given the option of staying in Rwanda or going back to their country of origin if they so choose.

“That is the arrangement under which this thing has been done and anybody can do it, any other country can do it. We just felt we needed to exercise the possibility we had to do things decently and provide a decent life to these people,” Kagame said.

Naysayers have argued that Rwanda makes money out of this. The argument has been trumpeted enough that beneficiaries began doubting Rwanda’s benevolent act before they were flown to Kigali. 

They changed their mind immediately after landing in Rwanda.

This is a standard bed in the facility with capacity to house 75 refugees. (The New Times)

“Rwanda doesn’t need to be thanked for its actions…We don’t want anybody to say thank you, we don’t want to say no, we will pay you for doing this, No! We did it out of conviction,” Kagame said, attracting wild applause.

President Kagame spared the crowed the telling a long story.

The Rwandan story. The story that defines the country’s thinking and its people’s DNA. Rwandans can relate to a refugee through personal stories; stories that relate to their refugee life before, during and after the genocide against the Tutsi.

The critique subjected against Rwanda, thus, does not hold any substance.

Analysts, who are knowledgeable about Rwanda’s approach on this humanitarian issue, say that the misguided attack on Rwanda has many faces.

It carries cynicism, double standards, a stereotype, and lack of understanding.

Bizarrely, criticism comes from places that have rejected and inhumanely treated the refugees.

“It is deeper than a stereotype,” says Dr. Frederick Golooba Mutebi, a researcher and a political analyst on Rwanda: “It is disrespect.”

He says those criticizing Rwanda lack understanding of the country’s values, way of life and what the people of Rwanda believe in.

There are other countries hosting thousands of refugees in the region, including Tanzania and Uganda.

Currently, there are 792,000 South Sudanese, 417,000 Congolese and more than 35,000 Burundians, among others, in those countries.

“Uganda, Tanzania, even Kenya host refugees and receive funding to look after them. Why are they not being subjected to the same scrutiny?”

He says those who are criticizing Rwanda forget that the country volunteered to host the refugees before the EU and UNHCR came in to offer assistance.

According to Dr. Golooba, “Rwanda does many things which they do not expect a small country, and they may add ‘aid-dependent’ African country, to do.”

“And Rwanda’s insistence on being treated with respect in its relations with other countries or outsiders doesn’t go down well with people who expect deference from Africans,” he says

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