Photo Credit: Iksriv
By Irelan Fletcher
In April of 2022, the British government announced a proposal to relocate 50 asylum seekers to the East African country of Rwanda, and it is estimated to cost $158 million. The proposal has elicited international attention on the Rwandan government as international civil rights organizations question the morality of this decision.
The refugees were tentatively expected to arrive at the end of May, however, the transfer was canceled in June due to legal challenges of the British government’s plan. As of September 2022, charities, campaign groups, and lawyers have come together to bring legal challenges to the British government’s plan to relocate asylum seekers. The policy is now under judicial review, with a second hearing taking place in October to address charges brought forth by the charity Asylum Aid.
Rwanda’s deputy government spokesman Alain Mukurarinda prior to the cancellation stated that though they are aware “the first batch of migrants will arrive by the end of the month… it is the British government that knows how many will come and when they will come.” The new Asylum Partnership Arrangement most affects those who arrived in the United Kingdom after January 1st, 2022. Refugees who arrived during that time could be subjected to relocation in Rwanda and granted refugee status there. After the transfer to Rwanda, migrants are set to be housed at hostels that will cost around $71 at Hope Guesthouse.
In the aftermath of this arrangement, concerns over Rwanda’s record of human rights violations have been brought to the table. Members of Human Rights Watch such as Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, spoke out against this transfer, claiming it an act of cruelty and infringement of international obligations. However, the British government is insisting that it could help the asylum system and that nothing in the U.N. Refugee Convention would prevent a safe transfer. International human rights activists continue to be skeptical, citing the 1951 Refugee Convention as a paradigm. The UK refugee relocation policy has been denounced by the United Nations Refugee Agency and has created division among lawmakers. These surmounting concerns are also derived from the current political climate in Rwanda. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a Rwandan political leader and former political prisoner, voiced that before the transfer occurs, the social and political reasons behind Rwandans seeking refuge could be solved. Human Rights Watch referenced these concerns with suspicious deaths and abusive prosecutions, pointing to an incident where 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo were shot after protesting for food rations cuts. Overall, international civil rights organizations strongly believe human rights violations in Rwanda need to be rectified before the transfer occurs.
Additionally, the relocation has led to increased anxiety and fear among migrants. Many migrants fled to Great Britain from war-torn regions, and the uncertainty of whether or not they are going to be transferred to Rwanda has created concern. An estimated 28,000 migrants who arrived in the small town of Folkestone in Kent, a coastal area in Southern England, on small rickety boats from the mainland of Europe have expressed doubts about the fairness of the transfer. A migrant living in Folkestone, Kamal Mohamad, summarized the sentiments of fellow migrants, “I had no other options…We have so many problems in my country. We came just to stay alive.”
Apprehension among migrants continues to grow, as a potential transfer looms. Care4Calais worker Katie Sweetingham who worked as a member of a response team that supports refugees received frantic messages after the transfer was announced. Sweetingham shared, “They already don’t know what their future holds, but then you’ve got this horrible thing hanging over you…I think it’s just another thing to traumatize people.” It is important to note that asylum seekers are a small fraction of migrants to Britain, with two-thirds majority declared true refugees in 2021, revealing that the new UK refugee relocation policy will have a great impact on the introduction of migrants to Britain.