Canada taking in hundreds of refugees living in slavery in Libya

In this photo taken on Sunday Feb. 18, 2018 photo, refugees and migrants wait to be rescued by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded rubber boat, 60 miles north of Al-Khums, Libya. (AP Photo/Olmo Calvo)

Also Being Welcomed Are Refugees From Niger – Through Regular Settlement Program Says Minister Hussen

OTTAWA: More than a year after the United Nations asked countries to take in refugees living in slavery in Libya, Canada has begun resettling hundreds of them, the UN and the federal government said Wednesday.

Canada was one of the few countries to respond to a request from the United Nations refugee agency in December 2017 to take the refugees who were living in detention centres in Libya, said Michael Casasola, the head of resettlement for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Ottawa.

“It can take some time for the countries to do their selection because it was a voluntary act. So they want to screen. They go through their usual selection processes,’’ said Casasola. “That can take time.’’

“As Canada takes more refugees, including Libyan refugees, it is important to remind other countries of their own commitments under the
1951 Refugee Convention” – World Refugee Council

More than 150 people have been resettled and another 600 more are expected over the next two years through the regular refugee settlement program, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Wednesday.

Canada is also planning to take in 100 refugees from Niger who were rescued from Libyan migrant detention centres, including  victims of human smuggling, he added. That was also helpful because Niger has been pressuring the UN to find new homes for the refugees it has taken in, said Casasola.

“What Canada has done in addition to being part of the pool of cases in Libya, they’re actually taking refugees out of Niger directly, which is something that helps us get some space with the local government too,’’ he said.

Migrants in a Tripoli detention cell. – UNHCR/Iason Foounten

Libya is a major stopping point for asylum-seekers from Africa who intend to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. A video of what appeared to be smugglers selling imprisoned migrants near Tripoli became public in 2017, prompting world leaders to start talking about freeing migrants detained in Libyan camps.

Hussen revealed the resettlement plan on Monday night at an event in Ottawa to celebrate Black History Month, but provided few details.

The minister told the gathering that Canada was asked by the UN to “rescue’’ people who have “endured unimaginable trauma.’’

The Mediterranean Sea crossing from north Africa to Europe’s southern coast has been a perilous one for migrants fleeing violence and instability.

Last month, the United Nations Migration Agency reported that 5,757 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea through the first 27 days of 2019, an increase over the 5,502 who arrived during the same period last year. The death toll dropped slightly, to 207 this year compared with 242 deaths in the same period of 2018. The influx of migrants into Europe has sparked a backlash. Italy’s populist government does not allow ships to bring migrants to its shores, as part of an effort to force other European Union countries to share the burden of dealing with arrivals.

“As Canada takes more refugees, including Libyan refugees, it is important to remind other countries of their own commitments under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the need to respect the principle of responsibility sharing, which is one of the new norms of the refugee compact which Canada and other countries have just signed,’’ said Fen Hampson, the executive director of the Canadian-led World Refugee Council.

The council, a coalition of international experts and former politicians, was formed to provide solutions to the global migration crisis.

Last week, a coalition of aid organizations from European countries condemned the politicking in Europe. “Since January 2018, at least 2,500 women, children and men have drowned in the Mediterranean. EU leaders have allowed themselves to become complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes.’’