We knew the global refugee system was broken. But Britain, with Rwanda’s help, wants to smash it with a hammer.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel last week announced a plan to fly migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and resettlement. This is the Johnson government’s response to the thousands who have recently arrived across the English Channel from mainland Europe. Rwanda would get around 144 million euros for housing, vocational training and other services for its efforts. Patel called this a “joint new migration and economic development partnership.”
It’s a posh way of saying, “We’re going to pay a poorer country to take people we don’t want.”
Of course, the trafficking of vulnerable people to and from Africa and its former overseas territories is something of a historic pastime for Britain. Nor is it anything new that wealthy countries (which end up hosting only 15 percent of the world’s more than 26 million refugees) are outsourcing their humanitarian work to poorer countries (which host about 85 percent of the world’s refugees).
And yes, I call this “human trafficking”. What word better describes the shipping of vulnerable people against their will and from one continent to another, not for the benefit of those people themselves, but of the parties at both ends of the transaction?
In her speech announcing the deal, Patel railed against “evil smugglers” and argued that this “innovative” and “groundbreaking” plan will save lives. But the way Britain is working so hard to implement the plan as anti-trafficking, in an attempt to defend the untenable, leads me to suspect it knows all too well what it is doing.
As rich nations flout international agreements on the treatment of people seeking protection, poorer countries with poor human rights records and struggling economies are given the opportunity to use refugees and asylum-seekers to receive development aid and benefits.
Enter Rwanda. In Western circles, the country has formed an image of African progress and modernity. It presents itself as a place with clean streets, a high percentage of women in government and a welcoming business climate. Rwanda has also tried to define itself as a country willing to help Africa find a path to self-sufficiency. A few years ago it made headlines for refusing to accept second-hand clothing imports from the West. In 2018, the signing ceremony for Africa’s historic continental free trade agreement took place in the capital, Kigali.
But the country’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. And under dictatorial President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has a history of human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, detentions of political opponents, enforced disappearances, torture and inhumane conditions in detention centers.
Rwanda itself is a source of refugees and exiles. Now Rwanda appears to be carving a new trading niche in bilateral deals to dump migrants.
In 2014, hairnet reported that Israel was sending thousands of African asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda in a secret plan. The Danish government is in dialogue with Rwanda about a settlement similar to that sought by Great Britain.
Like the atrocities in Ukraine unfold, Rwanda could have been a leader in calling for tolerance and compassion towards refugees. Instead, we talk about the human rights violations in Rwanda and how it helps European politicians to play out xenophobic impulses in their populations.
In return, Great Britain washes Rwanda’s image. Patel tweeted slick videos and produced op-eds praising Rwanda as a humanitarian haven with a “strong record in providing safety to those fleeing danger,” citing Rwanda’s hosting of nearly 130,000 refugees and evacuees from Libya .
A safety record? Rwandan politicians and others who have fled for their safety would disagree.
It’s also worth noting that many of those 130,000 refugees are from neighboring African countries less than 4,500 miles away. The evacuation of refugees from Libya was also done in cooperation with the African Union and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees during a conflict situation, not at the behest of a European country that wanted to keep desperate people out for domestic reasons.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/britains-rwandan-solution-has-shades-of-dark-times-41575813.html Britain’s Rwandan ‘solution’ has shadows of dark times