Britain wants to keep illegal migrants at a distance with the help of a controversial pact with Rwanda. The first asylum seekers will soon be on the plane to Kigali. Preparations are also underway in Rwanda.

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 with asylum seekers on board is to take off for Rwanda on Tuesday (June 14). London also hopes that this will act as a deterrent to discourage other people seeking help, many of whom come from Iran, Iraq or Eritrea, from fleeing to the UK.

UN refugee agency outraged

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 obligation to take in those seeking help.

Rwandan opposition politician and former presidential candidate Frank Habineza takes a similar view. “Rich countries should not shift their obligations towards refugees to third countries just because they have the money to exert influence and enforce their will,” 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.

Courts approve flight

In the first instance, the government received the green light for the flight on Friday evening. An appeals court upheld the verdict on Monday. According to reports, however, the number of passengers planned had dwindled shortly beforehand. According to the BBC, only a good ten asylum seekers should be flown out, with many other appeals said to have been successful.

“This Rwanda deal is absolutely wrong,” said the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, on Monday in Geneva. It should not be the case that a country that has the necessary funds for asylum clarifications outsources such examinations. Rwanda does not have the structures for this and has asked the UNHCR for help, said Grandi. “This makes my work all the more difficult,” said Grandi. He said that directly to Patel. Many countries in Africa and elsewhere are taking in refugees. “What should I tell them when a rich country sends refugees abroad?” said grandi. “You could say, then they will do it in the future. (…) This plan is a catastrophic precedent.” 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.

The crown prince is also said to be dissatisfied

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”, as 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 either.

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.

Rwanda gets millions

But how is Rwanda preparing for the new arrivals? In May, the government presented the future housing for the asylum seekers: a newly renovated hotel with a pool, for example, and a row of houses that had 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 job market, while 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 newcomers 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 has the kingdom 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.”