Rwanda, UK push on with migrant deal despite hitches

Sunday June 19 2022
uk demo

Children gather with protestors outside the Home Office in central London on June 13, 2022, to demonstrate against the UK government's intention to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. PHOTO | AFP


Rwanda and the UK face renewed pressure over their controversial migrant deal after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the final court of appeal for countries that signed the Convention on Human Rights, stopped the first flight of migrants from the UK that was scheduled for June 14.

The court’s decision came late in the evening of June 14, after the local courts in London said the flight could go ahead pending a judicial review of the policy scheduled for the end of July.

Read: Last-minute bid cancels UK asylum flight to Rwanda

While both governments had anticipated legal challenges with the policy and say they remain “undeterred”, critics of the policy are equally determined to make it fail.

The UK’s conservative government has defended the policy saying it will "save countless lives" from human trafficking, and Rwanda maintains that it is offering a humanitarian solution.

"People can have their opinion on this programme depending on where they come from or how it is portrayed in the media but, for us, it is about being part of a solution to a failing global asylum system," Yolande Makolo, the Rwandan government Spokesperson, told a press briefing in Kigali on June 14.


"We are doing it for good reasons. We don't think it is immoral to offer people a home."

Read: Why UK is pushing for lifting of Rwanda deportation ban

But for critics, the policy is not an ineffective deterrent and, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which has “firmly” opposed it, the policy fails to meet obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and contravenes rights of refugees because “people fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.”

On June 14, an estimated 400 migrants arrived in the UK in small boats, bringing the total of arrivals this year to over 10,500, triple the number that arrived by this time last year, according to estimates by London-based The Times.

The relocation to Rwanda policy has divided opinion in the UK, with 45 percent of the public opposed to it while over 35 percent backed it, according to a poll by JL Partners for the Tony Blair Institute.

Priti Patel, UK’s Home Secretary, denounced the ruling ECHR, saying her officials are working on booking another flight and “many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next.”

“The European Court of Human Rights did not rule that the policy or relocations were unlawful, but they prohibited the removal of three of those on last night’s flight. Those prohibitions last for different time periods but are not an absolute bar on their transfer to Rwanda. Anyone who has been ordered to be released by the courts will be tagged while we continue to progress their relocation,” Ms Patel told the British parliament on June 15, reaffirming her government “will not be deterred from doing the right thing.”

“We will not be put off by the inevitable legal, last-minute challenges, nor will we allow mobs to block removals,” Ms Patel said.

In a show of determination to implement the policy, UK officials are reported to be considering “all options,” including reviewing UK’s membership to the ECHR as well as cutting funding to the UN after critical analysis of the policy submitted by UNHCR lawyers.

Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK, Johnston Busingye, writing in The Daily Telegraph on June 12, expressed disappointment that "much of the discussion has either questioned our motives for entering the partnership or doubted our ability to provide ‘’safe haven" arguing not urging that while "there is no doubt that we are a work in progress, every country is, but the Rwanda of today is unrecognisable from the country the world was introduced to in 1994."

Read: Challenges that dog UK asylum seekers deal with Rwanda

Kigali says migrants will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services as well as the issuance of necessary identification documents.

So far, Rwanda has made available five hotels in Kigali that have the capacity to accommodate 350 people. They include Hope Hostel, locally known as "One Dollar Campaign" complex, Desire Resort Hotel and Hallmark Residences.