Concerns over UK-Rwanda migration deal

Adeze Ojukwu

The United Kingdom (UK)-Rwanda migration deal, is to say the least irksome and precarious.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said some of the migrants and asylum seekers, illegally entering Britain would be sent to Rwanda.’

He was stoic in his defense. ‘From today, anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda,’ Johnson stated.

The move swiftly generated a backlash from critics, opposition politicians, human rights groups and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, however hailed the partnership, as beneficial, because it would help to alleviate migration problems.

‘We are not involved in buying and selling of people, with the U.K. or anybody. It is just a problem that needs to be solved and Rwanda is ready to help.’

He said the idea of hosting asylum seekers, was first conceived, during his tenure as the head of the African Union in 2018, after migrants fled conflict in Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

‘We are happy to deal with the migration problem. It is because of how we handled the Libyan situation that we have been approached by different countries and are currently in talks with Denmark.’

Unfortunately, Rwanda’s population density is amongst the highest in Africa and the fifth largest in the world.

Given the peculiar circumstances and constraints of the East African country, one can easily view this programme, as a ruse.

It is largely criticized as a ploy by Johnson, to undermine the ‘core principle of non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country, where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.’

Interestingly, Britain is quite dexterous, when it comes to economic and diplomatic deals.

For centuries, it spearheaded great explorations to foreign lands, seeking resources and lands to grab.

Indisputably, the blood-soaked imperialist expansionism has paid off, with acquisition of resources and lands in several parts of the world.

Today, English, has become the most widely spoken and the language of communication and commerce globally.

It takes a lot for one country to colonize much of the world and forcibly grab huge territories from their original owners. Doesn’t it?

In its characteristic manner, Britain, few days ago, disclosed, plans to impose direct rule over the British Virgin Islands(BVI), after the Caribbean territory’s Prime Minister, Andrew Fahie, was arrested in Miami, United States(US) over suspicion of drug running.

Expectedly, the scheme sparked serious protests across the Island country.

Acting BVI premier, Natalio Wheatley, also expressed serious opposition against the proposal, due to its constitutional implications.

Wheatley, appointed after the 51- year old former premier 51, was arrested expressed his concerns in a Facebook post.

‘What this would mean in real terms is that there would no longer be elected representatives, who represent the people of the districts and the territory in the house of assembly where laws are made for our society. There would be no government ministers to advance the public priorities or a cabinet to approve a policy. All of that authority would be invested in the governor.’

‘The benefit of representative democracy to the public is the understanding and responsiveness of the elected representatives to their challenges and also to serve as conduits of their views, especially on reforms.’

Similarly critics have dismissed Britain’s latest migration deal as ‘unjust and unjustifiable.’

Undertaking such a venture in this 21st century, is fraught with flaws, despite the much-touted economic benefits for Rwanda.

It negates the principle of protection of refugees, across the world.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also faulted the move, due to risks of human rights violations against asylum seekers.

UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, described the arrangements as ‘shifting asylum responsibilities and evading international obligations that are “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.”

According to a statement, Triggs said the organization ‘firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards.

‘A deal reportedly made by the United Kingdom to send some migrants for processing and relocation to the Central African nation of Rwanda, are at odds with States’ responsibility to take care of those in need of protection, the UN refugee agency, said on Thursday.

‘UNHCR is not a party to negotiations that have taken place between London and Kigali, which it is understood were part of an economic development partnership.’

‘According to news reports, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has said the scheme costing around $160 million, would “save countless lives” from human trafficking, and the often treacherous water crossing between southern England and the French coast, known as the English Channel.’

UNHCR urged both countries to re-think the scheme, warning that instead of deterring refugees from perilous journeys, the externalization arrangements would only magnify risks, causing refugees to seek alternative routes, and exacerbate pressures on frontline States migrants are seeking to pass through.

While Rwanda has for decades generously provided a safe haven to refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, the majority live in camps with limited access to economic opportunities.

UNHCR underscored that wealthier nations must show solidarity in supporting Rwanda and the refugees it already hosts, and not the other way around.

“People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy,” underscored Ms. Triggs. “They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing”.

UNHCR said in its statement that the UK has an obligation to ensure access for asylum seekers – integrating those deemed to be refugees and safely returning to their country of origin, people with no legal basis to stay.

However, ‘Britain is instead adopting arrangements that abdicate responsibility to others, thus threatening the international refugee protection regime that has stood the test of time and saved millions of lives over the decades.’

The world is watching keenly for the outcome of this contentious project.

.Ojukwu is a Fellow of Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship, journalist and advocate for improved socio-economic services, across the world, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGS).
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