Rwanda has agreed to take in immigrants refused entry to the UK even as Kenya has refused requests from London to help ease the burden of unwanted guests.
And as Rwanda and the UK signed the Migration and Economic Development Partnership on Thursday, questions were raised about the fate of those who will be relocated.
Such earlier agreements have neither prevented the refugees from attempting to return to the territories which had rejected them, nor ensured them a life of adequate settlement in their new homes.
While the Rwanda deal reflects how the UK has struggled to seal its borders, especially after voting to leave the European Union, it should allow London to offload that burden , at a fee for Rwanda.
The actual number of migrants to be relocated was not given, but officials suggested any male migrants caught trying to enter Britain illegally by boat or hiding in vehicles would be dispatched in Rwanda.
The agreement with Rwanda only applies to men. Last year, 28,526 people were arrested.
It has now emerged that before doing the ‘partnership’ with Rwanda, the UK had approached other countries in the region, including Kenya, which declined the request on a ‘cost-benefit analysis’, according to a diplomatic source who spoke with East Africa in trust.
Kenya, which already hosts around 800,000 refugees, most in camps and others in urban centers across the country, declined offers to host the migrants citing already heavy numbers in the country, said the manager.
“On a cost-benefit analysis, the money offered is too little to handle these numbers. If the refugees were big business, we might be rich. But it costs more to house them.
“Even if a country is paid, the funds go to schools and other social assistance. In three to five years, it becomes your problem because what you need are jobs and other things for the basic sustainability,” the official said. East Africa.
The UK will also pay up to €120 million ($160 million) for support services in Rwanda. According to British authorities, refugees coming mainly from African countries with weak governance systems have become a burden, costing up to $6.3 million a day to be deported and patrol borders.
“Before Christmas 2021, 27 people drowned, and in the weeks to come there could be many more who will lose their lives at sea and whose bodies may never be found. About 600 people crossed the Channel yesterday. In a few weeks, it could again reach a thousand a day,” the British government said on Thursday, indicating that the asylum program was no longer viable.
The new scheme, according to London, is intended to “break the business model of smuggling gangs, scale up our operations in the Channel, bring more criminals to justice and end this barbaric trade in human misery”.
Since leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom has no common migration policy with EU members, which forces it to seek other partners to settle unwanted illegal immigrants.
Announcing the deal on Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained that Rwanda is a better host because “it is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognized for its hosting record and integration of migrants and will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of migrants in the years to come”.
But he also suggested that even those captured from boats who end up being granted asylum will still be settled elsewhere.
“This means that economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not be able to stay in the UK while those who really need it will be adequately protected with access to legal services in Rwanda supported by the funding we provide,” said he added.
The deal had been in the works for months and was signed by British Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta on Thursday.
But the refugee agency UNHCR said it was not a party to the negotiations between London and Kigali, which it appears were part of an economic development partnership.
“UNHCR remains strongly opposed to agreements to transfer refugees and asylum-seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs. , describing these agreements as a transfer of asylum responsibilities and a circumvention of international obligations. which are “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”.
Officials in Kigali say migrants will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment and enrollment in health and social protection services as well as issuance of the necessary identification documents.
And Secretary Patel explained to the media that “migrants who arrive in the UK by illegal means such as small boats and human traffickers will be relocated” to Rwanda.
This is not the first time that Rwanda has opened its doors to refugees. In 2014, he signed an agreement with the Tel Aviv government to take in African migrants who had been denied residency in Israel, also creating controversy.
A 2015 study by the International Refugee Rights Initiative found that many of those settled in the two countries had received little support and no rights to work. Some ended up begging in the streets. In 2021, Rwanda reached an agreement to welcome migrants refused entry to Denmark, in exchange for a continued agreement to support its social systems to welcome refugees.
Rwanda has also taken in African refugees stranded in inhumane conditions in Libya, after failing to make the crossing to Europe. This program has also been questioned on its ability to deter migrants from attempting to flee to Europe again. After the announcement of the agreement with the United Kingdom this week, the two governments have been criticized.
Besides open arms, Rwanda says the deal excludes asylum seekers from all bordering countries and will refuse those with criminal records.