The United Kingdom recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda for asylum seekers to be sent to Kigali, pending the outcome of their respective applications. Under the Rwanda-UK Migration and Economic Development Partnership, the initiative, according to a statement by the Rwanda Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta, and UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, will address the urgent humanitarian crisis by addressing its roots.
They said migrants would be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment and enrolment in healthcare and social care services. The UK’s Home Office said under the agreement, Rwanda will “process claims in accordance with the UN Refugees Convention, National and International Human Rights Law’’.
Also, the UK will provide an upfront investment of 120 million pounds that will fund opportunities for Rwandans and migrants including secondary school qualification, vocational and skill training, language lessons and higher education. “There is a global responsibility to prioritise the safety and well-being of migrants, and Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants and offer them legal pathway to residence. This is about ensuring that the people are protected, respected and empowered to further their own ambitions and settle permanently in Rwanda if they choose,’’ Biruta said.
As expected, this arrangement received criticisms from far and wide. The head of Anglican Church, Most Reverend Justin Welby, in his Easter message said the policy was “the opposite of the nature of God’’. He further described the policy as un-Christian, adding that it raises “serious ethical questions’’. “It cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values, because sub-contracting out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failure,’’ he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees similarly condemned the scheme as an “egregious breach of international law, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention’’.
Rwanda is no stranger to this arrangement. In 2019, under its “open policy,’’ it signed an MoU with the UN Refugee Agency and the African Union to set up an emergency transit mechanism for refugees and asylum seekers evacuated from Libya. Under this arrangement, it received a total of 824 evacuees. Also, between 2014 and 2017, the country received refugees from Israel under a similar arrangement.
However, we view this policy with strong scepticism, as we believe that it is fraught with so many problems for refugees, Rwanda, Africa and the world. It is simply a way of encouraging countries to shirk their responsibilities to international conventions, encourage human rights violations and create a view of Africa as a continent which lacks conscience. Moreover, the policy is also inherently racist as it applies mostly to migrants from Africa and the Middle East, but not to those from Europe. The open arms with which European countries have welcomed migrants fleeing war from Ukraine remain fresh in the minds of those who remember that they have not done the same to migrants fleeing the same conditions from Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.
The policy may work now that Paul Kagame is in charge of Rwanda, but the question is what happens when he leaves. To the average Rwandan, it will have a long term effect as it may lead to the country’s domination by refugees who may take over the economy and probably politics in years to come. The case of Uganda and the Asians comes to mind.
In sum, it is clear that the Rwandan government is putting economic gains before other issues. This is sad because it can hardly be sustained. It is indeed unfortunate that a promising country like Rwanda is being turned into a country that abets the violation of international law and conventions. It must be noted that its decision to agree to this arrangement would further jeopardise the rights of immigrants to fair hearing. We reject this arrangement and call on both the United Kingdom and Rwanda to jettison it as it does not augur well for human rights and is likely to further dent Africa’s image internationally.
African leaders should be more creative. They need to come up with initiatives that will lift their respective countries out of poverty rather than waiting for and accepting Greek gifts such as the offer by the United Kingdom. They must stop looking for the easy way out of situations. We believe that if African leaders can think more of delivering good governance to their people, most of the problems could be addressed in no distant future. Rwanda and Africa have the potential to prosper and that can happen with a little more commitment by its leaders. For now, this arrangement should not proceed and we advise both countries to stop it forthwith.