By Owei Lakemfa
The United Kingdom,UK, and Rwanda who conspired to have hapless migrants flown from London to open prison in Kigali, are trying hard to keep their unholy alliance on track.
Ironically, the main driver of this criminal anti-immigration conspiracy, 43-year-old British Attorney General Suella Braverman, is of Indian origin whose parents, Uma and Christie Fernandes, migrated from Mauritius and Kenya.
Her boss, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s grandparents were Indians born in Pakistan, while his parents migrated from East Africa. The amiable King Charles III is a descendant of William the Conqueror who migrated from Normandy in France and whose forebears were Scandinavian Vikings. On the other hand, the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, knows what it is to be a migrant as his parents fled the country when he was two, and he was raised in refugee camps in Uganda.
It would have been expected that these leaders, given their backgrounds would be sympathetic to migrants, but the anti-migration conspiracies of the countries they lead, suggest otherwise. In order to carry out the inhuman act of rounding up illegal migrants, half of who are Indians and Africans, and sending them to an uncertain but difficult future in Rwanda, both countries tried to convince the world that what they are doing is compassionate work in the service of humanity. The argument presented by Braverman is that: “Many countries around the world are grappling with unprecedented numbers of illegal migrants and I sincerely believe that this world-leading partnership … is both humanitarian and compassionate and also fair and balanced.”
On the other hand, the claim of Rwanda as presented by its Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta is that the UK-Rwanda proposals “offer better opportunities for migrants and Rwandans alike and would help with the British government’s goal of disrupting people-trafficking networks.” Behind these claims are cold financial statistics and calculations in which the migrants are mere figures, not human beings. The British establishment is uncomfortable that the migrants, in comparison with the indigenes, have high birth rates which has implications for the country’s future, and that the country spends over two billion pounds a year to accommodate migrants. So it seeks a cheap way out: offer a $95 million contract to countries willing to take in so-called illegal immigrants and ensure they never come back to the UK.
Rwanda, whose primary interests are financial gains, agreed in 2022 to receive thousands of illegally deported migrants for a fee of $146 million. Specifically on who is to be deported to Rwanda, under the April 14, 2022 “asylum partnership agreement” the British Interior Ministry says they would be: “Anyone who comes to the UK illegally – who cannot be returned to their home country – will be in scope to be relocated to Rwanda.”
Despite their agreement on how to treat migrants by virtually holding them in open prison, both countries still have differences. The Rwandan High Commissioner to Britain, Johnston Busingye, in a video aired on Saturday September 30, 2023, fired a missile at his host, saying although his country has a binding agreement with the UK on the migrants, the latter should stop posing as a compassionate country that has the interests of refugees at heart. He said this is “immoral” and that Britain should address the root causes of migration rather than treat its symptoms.
Busingye said: “They should have a long-term policy of making it a choice for people not to risk their lives coming to the UK. Because right now, many people are not coming here because of war in their country. No, they’re coming here because they are hopeless. They’re coming here because they have no future.” He added: “It is immoral for this country to still see themselves as the refugee country, the solace country, the protection country, the compassion country. They enslaved millions of people for 400 years. They destroyed India, they destroyed China, they destroyed Africa.”
A red-faced British establishment is yet to make a coherent response. It is likely it would ask the High Commissioner to be withdrawn. Finding the chicken feed offered by UK appetising, Rwanda, five months later, turned to Denmark for a similar deal to dump unwanted asylum seekers from that country in Rwanda for a fee. Denmark, a socially conscious country may with this agreement find itself in strange company. It is a country that has a full Minister in charge of foreigners and integration. Its Integration Act is to ensure that “newly arrived foreign nationals get an opportunity to use their abilities and resources to become active citizens on equal terms with other citizens in the Danish society.”
So, how does a country with such a model law, embark on a mission to deport migrants for a fee into an uncertain future? It is also not certain if Europeans from Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Germany who form the bulk of the migrants would be sent to the African country or it would be the comparatively small number of non-European migrants from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and India that would be sent.
The fate of the asylum seekers in Rwanda is not certain. But what is clear is that the 6,400-kilometre journey from UK to Rwanda is a “One way ticket”, so the victims cannot return. In Rwanda, the asylum seekers may be granted refugee status to remain in the country or seek asylum in another “safe third country”. Were they to remain in Rwanda, the possibility of eventually being expelled and forcibly returned to their countries of origin, is high.
There is the experience of Australia in 2012 seizing asylum seekers and seconding them to Papua New Guinea and Republic of Naru. There were long delays in determining their refugee status; they were virtually abandoned with little food and virtually no medical care even when a number of them developed mental illness. In some cases, 112 of them were cramped into a single dormitory. Some times when they ventured out of the detention centre, they were attacked, raped or beaten by the locals.
Four years later, it was discovered that at least 83 per cent of them were suffering from psychological disorder. The asylum seekers were so badly treated that some begged to be allowed to return to their home countries. Eventually, Australia was forced by international pressure to close the centres. In spite of this experience and the illegality of the UK-Rwanda agreement, most of the world is silent. This is worse in Africa whose ancestral land is to be desecrated. I am not aware of any African country that has called out Rwanda. The message out there is simple: migrate illegally to UK and go to jail in Rwanda.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.