Migrants to be repatriated from Libya as Ethiopia closes 27 refugee camps
GENEVA — An airlift is under way to repatriate some 15,000 African migrants, who are being held in abusive detention conditions in Libya. The International Organization for Migration says it expects to complete the operation before the end of the year.
The repatriation operation was triggered by recent reports of rampant migrant abuse in Libya, including slave auctions by criminal gangs. The IOM has begun scaling up its voluntary humanitarian return program in the wake of an African Union-European Union initiative to tackle the problem.
This year, the IOM has brought more than 14,000 mainly sub-Saharan migrants back to their home countries. The current operation will more than double the number of migrants who will have been voluntarily repatriated by year’s end. Most come from Nigeria, Guinea, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
Migrants signing up for the program are desperate to return home, according to IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle.
“A senior colleague of ours was in a detention center on Monday of this week with some senior EU delegations. There were about 1,000 people crammed into the space pleading, begging, shouting to be taken home,” he said.
Doyle tells VOA the migrants to be flown home are in government-administered detention centers in and around Tripoli. They account for only a small portion of the migrants being detained throughout Libya.
“There are many, many, many other detention centers run by criminal gangs — dreadful hovels, torture — which we do not have access to and that is what is leading to the reports and allegations of slave auctions. It is away from the government centers,” he said.
The IOM has registered more than 400,000 migrants in Libya, though the actual number thought to be in the country is estimated at 700,000 to one million.
Ethiopia government to close 27 refugee camps
The government of Ethiopia says it will close all 27 refugee camps in its territory over the next 10 years and integrate residents into local communities.
“There will be a gradual transition from a camp-based protection model to supporting refugees directly within host communities,” Zeynu Jemal, deputy director of the Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service.
Ethiopia hosts more refugees than all but one other country in Africa, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). More than 850,000 refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Eritrea live in camps jointly run by the U.N. and the government.
In September 2016, European leaders pledged to support the creation of jobs for refugees in sub-Saharan Africa with the aim of curbing migration to Europe.
Ethiopia was assured of a $500 million aid and loan package from the European Investment Bank in exchange for providing work permits to refugees.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has told European officials that his country will create 30,000 jobs for refugees and allow them to work in newly established industrial parks.
“We are creating economic opportunities in Ethiopia,” Zeynu Jemal told VOA. “Agriculture creates jobs if they have the skillset, we provide access to micro-financing to boost entrepreneurship, and we are also building industrial parks that can create jobs.”
Ethiopia itself faces enormous unemployment rates with nearly a fourth of its predominantly young population out of work. The Horn of Africa nation is hoping to capitalize on refugee job creation pacts where the international community helps build opportunities both for its citizens and refugee population.
In doing so Ethiopia has secured much-needed capital for its projects and hopes to create at least 60,000 jobs for its citizens, in addition to the jobs for refugees.
The European Union is on board with the plan and has begun funneling funds to build infrastructure and economic activities in Ethiopia.
“The pledges Ethiopia made and the actions it is taking today are exemplary and inspire many African states,” said Daniel Endres, a UNHCR official.
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Rayon expressed his government’s willingness to support Ethiopia and the UNHCR in their efforts to implement the project.