POLITICS
02/06/2019 20:25 EST | Updated 02/07/2019 16:37 EST

Hundreds Of Libyan Ex-Slaves Are Coming To Canada: Immigration Minister

Canada was one of few countries to respond to a United Nations refugee agency request.

Frank Gunn/CP
Ahmed Hussen in Toronto on Jan. 14, 2019.

OTTAWA — Canada has begun resettling hundreds of people rescued from slavery in Libya, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says.

Canada was one of the few countries to respond to a request from the United Nations refugee agency in 2017, Hussen told The Canadian Press in an email Wednesday.

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

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.

People who have 'endured unimaginable trauma'

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.

He said Canada was asked by the UN to "rescue" people who have "endured unimaginable trauma." He said Canada has responded to the call and provided safe haven.

The minister said Canada would eventually welcome "a lot" of Libyans.

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

Fabrizio Villa via Getty Images
CATANIA, ITALY - JANUARY 31: The 47 migrants aboard the ship Sea Watch, which arrived today at the port of Catania, arrives on January 31, 2019 in Catania, Italy. Forty Seven migrants, including 11 children, rescued off the coast of Libya by the ship Sea-Watch 3 on January 19th will be allowed to disembark at Catania in Italy. Five European countries, Germany, France, Portugal, Romania and Malta, have offered to take them in after a political impasse left them stranded aboard the boat of the coast of Sicily. (Photo by Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images)

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.

Last week, a coalition of international aid organizations from several European countries condemned the politicking in Europe around migrants.

"Since January 2018, at least 2,500 women, children and men have drowned in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, EU leaders have allowed themselves to become complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes," their open letter said.

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"Every time a ship brings people who have just been rescued to a European port, EU governments engage in painful, drawn-out debates about where the ship can disembark and which countries can host the survivors and process their asylum applications."

The Canadian initiative with the Libyans follows recent resettlements of about 1,000 Yazidi refugees from Iraq and 40,000 Syrians, threatened by Islamic State militants and Syrian forces.

"Canadians have always been welcoming to newcomers, and that generosity has helped offer protection to those fleeing persecution, terror and war," Hussen said.

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