UN suspends refugee resettlement amid coronavirus threats

Asylum seekers in Rwanda may wait longer for resettlement in Europe, as UN agencies temporarily suspend refugee resettlement travel

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), have announced the temporary suspension of refugee travel arrangements as a result of the ongoing travel restrictions established by different countries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID19).


Announced on Tuesday, March 18, the move, according to UNHCR is also driven by the fact that there is concern that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.


Official information from UNHCR shows that the suspensions are a temporary measure that will be in place only for as long as it remains essential.


Rwanda is currently a temporary home to about 271 refugees and asylum seekers evacuated from Libya,  and UNHCR officials have said before that more would be brought in since the Gashora Transit Centre where they are hosted has the capacity of accommodating up to 500 of them.

Speaking with The New Times Wednesday, Elise Laura Villechalane the External Relations Officer at UNHCR Rwanda pointed out that the travel issues were mainly due to the evident situation in different countries where a number of travel restrictions have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID19.

Asked about how it will affect the next evacuation of asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda, Villechalane said, there wasn't yet a fixed date for the next evacuation and she couldn't speak about the impact.

However, in a message that the United Nations posted on its website, it said that these "quickly evolving regulations” directly impact resettlement travel for refugees.

In Rwanda, countries like France, Sweden, Norway among others had offered hundreds of resettlement slots for the African asylum seekers from Libya, however, their travels may as well be delayed by the coronavirus situation.

Last month, 28 of them were resettled to Sweden, and there are a number of slots from countries like Norway, for others who qualify.

In their message, as posted on the United Nations website, the UN Agencies appealed to states to ensure that the most critical emergency cases can travel.

“We will also remain in close contact with refugees themselves and all of the agencies that work to support the use of resettlement as a critical protection measure," the message read.