Rwanda Offers to Host African Migrants Stranded in Libya

Migrants in Tripoli, Libya, this month after they were rescued by the Libyan Navy. Many Africans enter the country seeking passage to Italy in vessels operated by smugglers.

AHMED JADALLAH / REUTERS

In an unusual gesture that could partly reverse a more familiar northward odyssey toward Europe, Rwanda offered on Thursday to house or help repatriate some of the thousands of African migrants being held in Libya and reportedly auctioned there as slaves.

A statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry said Rwanda was “horrified” that “African men women and children who were on the road to exile have been held and turned into slaves.”

“Given Rwanda’s political philosophy and our own history, we cannot remain silent when human beings are being mistreated and auctioned off like cattle,” the statement said. The evocation of Rwanda’s history apparently referred to bloodletting in 1994 when more than 800,000 people perished in an ethnically driven genocide.

“We may not be able to welcome everyone but our door is wide open,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The statement did not say how many people might be taken in by Rwanda, a small, landlocked country of 12 million in east-central Africa that ranks as one of the continent’s most densely populated.

But Moussa Faki Mahamat, the newly appointed head of the African Union, the continent’s biggest representative body, said on Twitter that Rwanda had offered to resettle as many as 30,000 migrants.

Mr. Mahamat said he was “deeply appreciative” of the offer.

Libya has in recent years become a leading entrepôt for migrants from Africa seeking passage to Italy in vessels operated by smugglers. The migrants have long been known to live in squalid conditions as they wait to board ramshackle and unseaworthy vessels. Thousands have drowned when the boats sank or capsized. Many others have reached Italy or been rescued on the way.

Since CNN broadcast footage of bidding and the sale of African migrants in Libya, an international outcry has gathered in volume.

On Monday, António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said he was horrified by the images.

“Slavery has no place in our world, and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement.

Mr. Guterres said the reported auction of slaves “also reminds us of the need to address migration flows in a comprehensive and humane manner,” including “enhanced international cooperation in cracking down on smugglers and traffickers and protecting the rights of victims.”

Last weekend, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Libyan Embassy in Paris chanting, “Put an end to the slavery and concentration camps in Libya.”

Many of the African migrants in Libya began their journeys in West Africa or the Horn of Africa to escape poverty and upheaval. According to the International Organization for Migration, almost 9,000 migrants have been helped to return to their home countries this year.

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