By Olive Mukahirwa
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in April that the U.K. had signed an unusual agreement with Rwanda. The agreement involved sending all asylum seekers who reached the U.K. after January 1 to be resettled in Rwanda. The agreement generated huge, global public backlash, and on June 15, the flight intended to carry the first group of migrants from London to Rwanda was grounded at the last minute. Activists had taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the flight stopped after hearing a series of legal challenges to the agreement.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on June 13 that the agreement showed grave irresponsibility on the part of the U.K.
“If it were the other way around, maybe we could discuss, but here, we are talking about a country (the UK) with structures that is exporting its responsibility to another country, Rwanda,” said Filippo Grandi.
“The UK government’s assertion is that the policy aims ‘to save people’ from dangerous boat journeys. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great, but is that the right way to do it? Is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so,” he added.
The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, responded to the order to ground the flight in comments to members of Parliament: “The government remains committed to sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda and plans for future flights have begun. We will not be deterred from doing the right thing.”
Money is involved in the deal with Rwanda – a great deal of money. The UK plans to hand over $160 million (USD) to Rwanda in exchange for sheltering the migrants, a subject of criticism by many who say that Rwanda’s participation in the deal is based on financial gain. Prime Minister Johnson said that 3,599 asylum seekers are known to have arrived in the UK between April 18 and June 5, 2022.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta has explained the reason for the huge sum of money it stands to gain.
“We want to contribute to a solution to the illegal migration crisis… . The money which is referred to in the agreement is to allow us to give a dignified life to these people. These people need accomodation, they need to be economically integrated.. so that money is just for that, and Rwanda cannot sign such an agreement just for money. And those who will want to go back to their country of origin, or to a third country, they will be facilitated as well,” he said.
Since 2019, Rwanda has received many African refugees from Libya, where they had been held hostage. Some of these refugees have secured legal documents, and now live in countries other than Rwanda, including Canada and Sweden.