The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.
Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.
According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.
The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.
What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.
Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.
Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.
Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.
As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.
While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.
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Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.
“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.
Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.
Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.
Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.
The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.
Labour migration as climate mitigation
you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed
Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.
It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.
Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.
The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.
Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.
Reparations include No Borders
“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman
Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”
Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debt, unfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheid, labour exploitation, and border securitisation.
It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.
Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.
The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.
The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?
In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.
The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.
Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.
The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.
Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.
A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.
He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.
I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.
I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.
What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.
In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”
We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him
Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.
“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.
At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.
Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.
Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people
“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”
Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest
It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.
Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.
“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.
The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.
Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.
UK-Rwanda Asylum Pact: Colonial Era Deportations are Back in Vogue
“Go back to Africa” has taken on a new meaning, with Britain’s controversial plan to deport migrants to Rwanda, and outsource its “immigration problem”.
The British government has sparked outrage—and applause from right-wing voters—with its new plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
The plan applies only to single men, who would be given one-way plane tickets to a country 4,000 miles away, where their asylum claims will be processed. Even if they are granted asylum, the men would not be allowed back to Britain. Rejected applicants will be deported again. The idea is to deter migrants, stop people smugglers, and ultimately end mass immigration. The scheme particularly targets migrants and asylum seekers who cross the English Channel from France in rubber dinghies, after paying a fortune to people traffickers. Some 6,000 people have crossed the channel this way so far this year, almost three times the number that had crossed by this time last year. The migrants largely come from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar and Venezuela.
The irony is that the controversial plan is the brainchild of Home Secretary Priti Patel, the daughter of Ugandan-Asian immigrants who arrived in Britain in the 1960s. Under her hostile immigration regime, it is highly likely that her own parents would not have been allowed in – something she has admitted. It is also ironic that the government says Rwandan asylum seekers will still be allowed into Britain.
The government is selling this as a great opportunity for migrants to start a new life in a country they call “fundamentally safe and secure”. The reality is that Rwanda is a dictatorship, with a very poor human rights record, intolerant attitudes to LGBTI+ people, and a tendency to crush any kind of dissent. Migrants fleeing detention and torture could now experience further trauma. An earlier deal that Rwanda cut with Israel, between 2014 and 2017, failed; many of the asylum seekers reportedly left Rwanda almost immediately, and used people smugglers to try and return to Europe.
The government has faced increasing pressure from voters to curb immigration. In the Brexit referendum in 2016, after which the UK left the European Union, the “Leave” camp promised to end illegal immigration. But the dangerous channel crossings have risen sharply under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, much to the anger of Tory voters. This new plan was hatched after failed attempts to collaborate with France to stop the boats. Initial costs are projected to be up to £30,000 per migrant, although the actual cost is likely to be much higher. Rwanda will receive £120 million from Britain for “economic development”.
Cynics say this is a distraction and a “dead cat” story, announced just before the May council elections when the Tories fear electoral defeat. Johnson faces leadership challenges, amid fierce criticism of the so-called “partygate” scandal which has seen him, his wife and senior No. 10 staff investigated by the police and fined for breaking COVID lockdown laws.
The United Nations, human rights lawyers, opposition parties and refugee bodies have condemned the plan as criminal, inhumane, cruel, and unworkable. Some leading Tories have also condemned it, notably former ministers Andrew Mitchell and Rory Stewart.
“I think it’s a way of getting rid of people the government doesn’t want, dumping them in a distant African country, and they’d have no chance of getting out of there again,” said Lord Alf Dubs, 89, a Labour peer who sits in the House of Lords. Lord Dubs came to Britain as a child fleeing the Nazis, via the Kindertransport scheme before World War Two, which saved thousands of young Jewish lives. He campaigns on refugee and asylum issues.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, condemned the plan in his Easter Sunday sermon. He said it raises “serious ethical questions” and cannot “stand the judgement of God”. In response, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, defended the policy as “almost an Easter story of redemption”.
The United Nations, human rights lawyers, opposition parties and refugee bodies have condemned the plan as criminal, inhumane, cruel, and unworkable.
Unions representing civil servants who work at the Home Office warn of mass walkouts and requests for transfer to other government departments if this plan goes ahead. Human rights lawyers and refugee bodies say they will vigorously fight the scheme in the courts. There is also likely to be strong opposition from politicians in both houses of parliament (the Commons and the Lords).
But Brexit voters are thrilled—this is what they voted for. Typical comments posted online in the right-wing media include: “Send them all back to Africa!” … “With the policy all the way! Brilliant plan.” … “The majority [of migrants] are not asylum seekers or refugees but economic migrants who are just jumping the queue illegally.” … “This is the best idea the government have come up with in a long time, make it retrospective and get rid of what is already here, women and children as well, get on with it.” Different reactions on Twitter include this: “The Rwandan one-way ticket scheme is rooted in the fundamentally racist notion that all black people are ‘the same’ and can simply ‘get sent back’ to Africa.”
Meanwhile, British people have largely welcomed government plans to bring Ukrainian refugees to the UK, at least temporarily. Perceptions of the cross-channel migrants as black and Muslim (many are neither) are compared to nice white Christian Ukrainians who “share our culture”. (In fact, Ukraine has one of the largest Jewish populations outside Israel.)
Britain has form when it comes to deportation. Most famously, more than 162,000 convicts were deported to Australia between 1788 and 1868, the majority for petty crimes such as stealing a sheep, cutting down a tree or poaching. In the early 18th century, it also deported convicts to the American colonies to work; the alternative was execution. Once freed, many of the ex-convicts in Australia stayed there and joined the free settlers. Some rose to prominent positions in society.
British people have largely welcomed government plans to bring Ukrainian refugees to Britain, at least temporarily.
On a much smaller scale, in colonial East Africa the British punished Africans they considered dangerous by sending them into internal exile. They fell into three main groups: political figures like Harry Thuku and Samuel Muindi Mbingu; convicted witches/sorcerers; and prophets or other religious figures. The last group included the Maasai prophet Senteu, half-brother to Paramount Chief Olonana, who was deported to North Nyeri, the Samburu prophet Leaduma (sent first to the coast, then Embu, where he died), and Kamba anti-colonial prophet Ndonye wa Kauti (deported to Lamu). Thuku and Senteu were allowed home; Mbingu, Leaduma and Ndonye were not. A few “undesirable” whites were also deported overseas.
Who would ever have guessed that, decades later, post-colonial Britain would be planning to deport thousands of “undesirables” to the middle of Africa?
Genocide victims made homeless
In an exclusive front-page splash headlined “Priti heartless”, Britain’s Mirror newspaper reported that former genocide victims living in the Hope Hostel in Kigali have been ousted to make way for the migrants. Patel was pictured touring the hostel this week with Rwandan officials, after striking the controversial deal. It was a shelter for traumatised orphans, who are now adults. “I barely know any other home. I was only told about moving out a few days ago,” said one woman.
In Rwanda and across East Africa, the news that Rwanda is set to receive UK migrants has been received with an unprecedented level of incredulity. In part, this is to do with the fact that the first Rwandans learned of the idea was after the UK press reported it. Those living in the diaspora heard about it first.
“It is astonishing really, but we have become used to these sorts of things happening here,” said a former minister.
Rwanda remains one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In 2019, there were 1,242 people per square mile, making it the world’s 14th most densely populated country. Some of the objections that British voters have against migrants, particularly around the additional pressure on school places, hospital appointments and general access to public services, can be made about Rwanda too.
Given the magnitude of the policy and the potential triggers around community cohesion, it would have been a good idea if the proposal had been debated in parliament before an agreement was reached with the UK. None of the parliamentarians we spoke with knew of the policy before it was announced.
More than 162,000 convicts were deported to Australia between 1788 and 1868, the majority for petty crimes such as stealing a sheep, cutting down a tree or poaching.
“It is ill thought out, and if I am being frank, likely to backfire”, noted the minister. “There are so many loops to this. We already have a significant number of refugees in the country from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some of these, especially the Congolese, are already very difficult to manage. What makes us think we can take on Britain’s migrants?”
In 2018, Rwandan police shot and fatally wounded 12 Congolese refugees who had gathered to demonstrate against a 25 per cent cut in the food provided by the UN refugee agency at a camp in Kiziba, western Rwanda. Rwanda hosts about 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 people from neighbouring Burundi who fled violence in 2015.
It is telling that Rwandan media has almost unanimously stayed clear of the asylum pact despite the furore surrounding the announcement in the UK media. In Rwanda, the few media organisations that still exist have either made a choice not to cover the story, or are waiting to see how it plays out. This explains in part why the Rwandese public has not engaged with the story, even though many might have opinions and things to say about the proposed plan to settle migrants in their communities.
“It is a difficult one,” said a local editor. “But you know how it works. Everyone is waiting to see which way the wind blows. At the end of the day, no one wants to be shut down over Eritreans or Syrians. But generally, there is despondency.”
Tiered asylum system
Questions have also been raised as to how the UK scheme would work vis-à-vis existing refugee schemes in the country. The Rwandan government insists claims will be decided according to existing Rwandan and international law.
In Rwanda and across East Africa, the news that Rwanda is set to receive UK migrants has been received with an unprecedented level of incredulity.
Already, the agreement with the UK appears to be treating UK migrants better. Traditionally, Rwanda has settled refugees and those seeking asylum in refugee camps – away from local communities. By using Hope Hostel to accommodate UK migrants, Rwanda will be offering one set of refugees a form of accommodation that is completely different from the other.
Besides, what is there to prevent those already living in camps from seeking ways to travel to Europe in the hope of being returned? That way, they would have access to hostel accommodation as opposed to camps.
Not all is doom and gloom
The headlines may be brutal, and they are certainly not what the two countries expected when they agreed this deal. Overall, Rwanda stands to gain, at least financially. The estimated £120 million that Rwanda will receive initially is a definite bonus for a country trying to regrow its economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rwandan government is also using the agreement as proof that countries like the UK have confidence in its policies and governance, and acknowledge it as a worthy partner – a boon for President Paul Kagame, whose style of leadership, especially with regard to opposition politics, has been on the ropes lately.
“For the last 28 years, we have built a country that is united,” government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told Sky News, responding to criticism of the plan from Human Rights Watch. “We have built a country that is stable. We have built a functioning government that provides services for Rwandans. Human Rights Watch might say what they want to say, but that is up to them. It doesn’t mean it is the truth.”
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