The deportation of refugees who have entered Rwanda illegally seems to be a done deal in Great Britain. If the court of appeal agrees, the first plane to Kigali could take off tomorrow. Despite all the loud protests.
There are around 6,600 kilometers between the London government district of Westminster and Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. That’s how much distance the British government wants to put between itself and those asylum seekers who entered Britain illegally. A pact with the East African country, which is to take in the refugees in return for appropriate payments, is the last hope of Boris Johnson’s conservative government, who promised his voters with Brexit that he would regain control of his own borders.
According to plans by the British government, the first plane to Rwanda is to take off tomorrow, Tuesday – with around 30 asylum seekers on board. According to the organization Care4Calais, however, the tickets of 20 of those affected have now been canceled. However, the departure is still planned for eleven migrants, the organization announced on Twitter. Among them are four Iranians, two Iraqis, two Albanians and one Syrian.
London also hopes this will act as a deterrent to discourage others from crossing to the UK. However, it was unclear until recently whether the plane would take off at all.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced her pact on Rwanda in spring. The UN refugee agency UNHCR and many others reacted outraged and pointed out that the British could not buy their way out of their duty to take in those seeking help.
Opposition in Rwanda is critical
Rwandan opposition politician and former presidential candidate Frank Habineza takes a similar view. “The rich countries should not shift their obligations towards refugees to third countries just because they have the money to exert influence and get their way,” he criticized. The small state on the Great Lakes is already one of the most densely populated countries in Africa – with conflicts over land ownership and raw materials. Habineza fears that taking in migrants from Great Britain will exacerbate the problems.
Several refugee organizations and a border guards union have sued the UK government’s plan on behalf of those affected. Raza Husain, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said at a hearing in London on Friday that there was no evidence that those affected could expect a secure asylum procedure in Rwanda.
In the first instance, the government received the green light for the flight on Friday evening. However, the responsible court of appeal should deal with the case this Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson again defended the agreement on radio station LBC. “It is very important that the criminal gangs that are putting people’s lives at risk in the English Channel understand that their business model is being destroyed,” he said, referring to gangs of people smugglers.
The UN refugee agency reiterated its concerns. One fears “serious, irreversible damage” that the refugees in Rwanda could suffer, said a lawyer for the organization. Contrary to what the British Home Office suggests, the plans are not supported in any way. The human rights organization Human Rights Watch pointed to human rights violations in Rwanda, which is ruled with a strict hand by long-time President Paul Kagame.
Even heir to the throne Prince Charles, who will soon be traveling to Rwanda for a Commonwealth event, is said to have expressed his displeasure in private conversations and described the British government’s plans as “terrifying”, the Times reported on Saturday, citing insider sources reported. When asked by the newspaper, his residence Clarence House said the prince was politically neutral – but did not deny the statement.
The British Home Office, on the other hand, is convinced that it is doing the right thing. There is “great public interest in carrying out these deportations as planned,” the ministry’s lawyers said in a statement. Migration expert Jonathan Portes is not convinced. Britons are currently concerned about the cost of living crisis and other issues. Migration comes “very far down the list,” Portes said.
Alleged accommodation in Rwanda: a renovated hotel with a pool
But how is Rwanda preparing for the new arrivals? In May, the government already presented the future accommodation for the asylum seekers: a newly renovated hotel with a pool, for example, and a row of terraced houses that previously housed survivors of the 1994 genocide. The previous residents of the pretty little houses with red tiled roofs had to look for a new place to live.
Rwanda initially received 120 million pounds from Great Britain, as well as money for food and training, because the refugees will have the right to work in Rwanda. This triggers mixed feelings in Kigali: Some believe that the refugees will be unwelcome competition on the labor market, others see them as foreign exchange earners and potential customers or business partners. Bugirainfura Rachid, who runs a small supermarket in the Gasabo district where the refugees are housed, is looking forward to the arrivals: “These people will bring money into our economy,” he is certain. “I think they will support me as a customer of my business.”
Another local resident sees problems looming: The arrivals are not familiar with the Rwandan culture, do not speak the language and their integration will be difficult. Others not only criticize the refugee deal, but fear a silence when it comes to criticism of human rights violations in Rwanda. Great Britain is one of the major donor countries – and with the agreement not only the kingdom may have bought its freedom from unwanted refugees, but also Rwanda from previously expressed criticism, says Ntakandi Benjamin. “This kind of agreement gives the government a kind of protection against being held responsible.”