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Rwanda’s decision to take in migrants not surprising: Analysts

Rwanda’s asylum pact with UK has drawn criticism over concerns of alleged lack of sufficient safeguards

James Tasamba   | 28.04.2022
Rwanda’s decision to take in migrants not surprising: Analysts

KIGALI, Rwanda

Rwanda’s decision to agree to take in asylum seekers from the UK should hardly be surprising due to the reluctance of many countries to admit asylum seekers and refugees, according to analysts.

The new deal, formally called the Rwanda-UK Migration and Economic Development Partnership, was signed in the Rwandan capital Kigali on April 14 by British Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta.

It would allow resettling in Rwanda for processing asylum seekers and refugees attempting to enter the UK via illegal means.

While some chalk it up as in line with Rwanda’s spirit of hospitality, the deal has drawn criticism from rights activists, politicians, and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over concerns that there are no sufficient safeguards and standards.

The opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda said rich countries including the UK should not shift their international obligation to receive refugees and transfer them to third countries “just because they have the money to influence and enforce their will.”

But negotiations with Rwanda are underway for a similar deal with Denmark, according to the government.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Lonzen Rugira, a Rwandan researcher, said if asylum seekers are fleeing their countries for safety, at least this concern is addressed by Rwanda.

“The refugee problem is first and foremost an African problem. The country offering a solution is an African country. This is something that Africans should celebrate,” he said.

“Rwanda is safe -- that's the most important thing.”

Kagame dismisses suggestion of financial element as basis

The UK has earmarked an upfront investment of £120 million ($150 million) to facilitate the implementation of the five-year agreement.

The funding will be injected into opportunities for the development of migrants and Rwandans in areas of secondary qualifications, vocational and skills training, language lessons, and higher education.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, briefing diplomats accredited to Rwanda on Tuesday, said the asylum seekers deal was well-intentioned and dismissed suggestions that the government was motivated by money.

“I have heard some people claim that the UK gave us money, wanting to dump people here. No, we don’t do that kind of thing. We are not involved in the buying and selling of people. We can’t do that because of our core values,” he said.

Kagame said that in 2019, Rwanda took a similar step with the UN Refugee Agency and the African Union to establish an emergency transit mechanism for refugees and asylum seekers stranded in Libya, whose success he said inspired the UK to contact Rwanda about their migration problem.

Under the 2019 agreement, about 824 evacuees from Libya were received in Rwanda in multiple batches.

Among them, 565 have been resettled to third countries including Canada (186), Sweden (142), Norway (113), France (66), Belgium (26), and Finland (32), according to Rwanda’s Ministry of Emergency Management.

Besides those from Libya, Rwanda hosts nearly 130,000 refugees from mainly the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi as well as Afghanistan.

“If you talk about how to deal with the migration problem, we are happy to deal with that problem. There is nothing bad about this. There is nothing we can’t be transparent about. This is what it is,” Kagame added.

Ismael Buchanan, a senior lecturer at the department of political science at the University of Rwanda, said the choice of Rwanda should be hardly surprising.

“Looking at how Rwanda has managed to welcome and integrate migrants of all stripes is telling about its attitude,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“Rwanda has opened its doors to those fleeing conflict around the world. This is what Rwanda is all about,” said Buchanan.

To back up a little, the election of former US President Donald Trump on promises to build walls that would shut down Muslim immigration to the United States exemplified alienation against immigrants, according to the analysts.

Rugira said the most powerful countries in the world have been built by migrants, adding that “a closed society cannot develop and outsiders help the people they find to expand their horizons.”

 International protocols do not accept economic refugees

Although the majority to come from the UK could be economic refugees, Rugira believes this is not the reason they are being transferred to Rwanda.

“But opportunities will be open to them as they will be for Rwandans. Few countries can claim to be as friendly to refugees. We will shape them, and they in turn will shape us. This is positive,” he added.

Similar past deals

In 2012, Australia held all asylum seekers entering the country using unofficial routes in offshore processing centers while their claims were being determined on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the island micro-state of Nauru.

However, conditions were reportedly very poor on Nauru, and Amnesty International in a 2016 report described the policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrived by boat as “cruel in the extreme.”

Papua New Guinea's supreme court was to later rule the Manus center illegal in 2017.

In 2018, the Israeli government scrapped controversial plans for mass expulsion of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda following legal and public pressure against the move.

But UK Home Secretary Patel has said the relocation will help the asylum seekers to resettle and rebuild their lives.

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