KIGALI/OSLO (Reuters) – Norway this year will take in 600 people evacuated to Rwanda from Libyan detention centers, the Nordic country said on Wednesday as it sought to discourage the smuggling of refugees across the Mediterranean Sea.
Rwanda, from where more than 2 million people were displaced amid genocide in 1994, signed a deal with the United Nations in September meant to help resettle people detained in Libya while trying to reach Europe.
The migrants evacuated to Rwanda have been given asylum-seeker status there while the U.N refugee agency determines whether they are refugees.
“Norway accepted to receive close to 500 people and Sweden took in seven last month. Others are still waiting,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta told a news conference in the capital, Kigali.
In a statement to Reuters, Norwegian Justice Minister Joeran Kallmyr said the number for 2020 would in fact be 600, but added that would not lead to an increase in the overall number of refugees the government previously committed to.
As part of a compromise last year among Norway’s four-party government coalition, Kallmyr’s anti-immigration Progress Party has agreed to accept a total of 3,000 refugees from U.N. camps in 2020.
“It’s important to me to show that we don’t support cynical people smugglers, and instead bring in people who need protection in an organized manner. A transit camp like the one in Rwanda will contribute to that effort,” Kallmyr said.
European authorities have been trying to close the route across the Mediterranean that has seen thousands of people die at sea while trying to reach Europe in recent years.
Last year, before the deal was signed, the United Nations estimated that about 4,700 people seeking refuge were estimated to be in Libyan detention centers, some of them run by militias and under siege amid civil war.
People smugglers have exploited the turmoil in Libya since 2011 to send hundreds of thousands of migrants on dangerous journeys across the central Mediterranean, although the number of crossings dropped sharply from 2017 amid an EU-backed push to block departures.
(Reporting by Philbert Girinema in Kigali and Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik in Oslo; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Cooney)