The first evacuation flight of African refugees and asylum-seekers was set to arrive in Rwanda on Thursday in the latest effort to divert and care for thousands from the continent who failed in their efforts to reach Europe.
The East African nation's agreement to take in 500 people who have been trapped in crowded, dangerous Libyan detention centers has raised questions and concerns. It is not clear how long they will be held in Rwanda and what happens if no other country agrees to take them permanently.
``Refugees who will wish to stay in Rwanda permanently will be given asylum,'' Olivier Kayumba, permanent secretary in the ministry of emergency management and refugee affairs, told The Associated Press. Authorities said the people were in a bad state of health and media access to their arrival was restricted.
The first group of 75 Africans, including women and children, was to arrive later Thursday, the United Nations refugee agency said.
The Rwanda option emerged after various European Union-funded efforts to stem the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe via sometimes deadly journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, although the volume is decreasing. The U.N. migration agency has said more than 45,500 people have arrived in Europe by sea this year, a 30% drop from 2018.
A larger evacuation center run by the U.N. in the West African nation of Niger is now dangerously overcrowded, as is the U.N.-run center for about 1,000 migrants and refugees in Libya's capital, Tripoli. In Niger, where the U.N. refugee agency says some 2,900 people have been evacuated, just a fraction of people have found spots in Europe or elsewhere.
At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses. Some of the migrants have been intercepted on the Mediterranean by Libya's EU-funded coast guard, which itself has been the focus of abuse allegations.
Some of the detention centers are close to fighting between Libya's armed groups, and in July at least 44 people were killed by an airstrike on one center near Tripoli.
Rwanda offers a holding option far from the well-traveled migrant route.
Its government agreed to take in refugees and asylum-seekers who agreed to leave Libya under a deal signed with the U.N. and African Union. Most of those set to arrive are from the Horn of Africa, a turbulent region that includes Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Many migrants from those countries also try a separate but perilous route to rich Gulf nations, with some dying at sea off the coast of conflict-torn Yemen.
Those arriving in Rwanda will be housed in a center that already been constructed 60 kilometers (37 miles) outside the capital, Kigali. They will be free to come and go from the center, Babar Beloch, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, has said.
There are hopes Rwanda will be able to take in more than the initial 500 people, he added.
The refugee agency ``urges the international community to support this transit center here in Rwanda but also to come forward with similar routes to safety so that we can get people out of harm's way in Libya,'' spokesman Charlie Yaxley said in a statement.