By Habte Hagos
In February 2018, demonstrations were held by Jewish and African activists around the world, including one in front of the Rwandan High Commission in London to protest against the deportation of African refugees from Israel to Rwanda.
At the London demonstration, the Rwandan High Commission issued a statement stating “Rwanda’s position on migrants, wherever they may originate from, was informed and shaped by a sentiment of compassion towards African brothers and sisters who are today perishing at high seas, sold in the market like cattle or expelled from the countries in which they sought shelter. Rwanda is happy to help in a limited way it could by welcoming anyone arriving at its borders in need of a home, voluntarily and without any constraints.” The letter dated 7 February 2018 adds “ .. Rwanda’s policy vis-à-vis Africans in need for a home, temporary or permanent, within the country’s means, remains open.”
It is surprising that the UK now plans, and indeed signed an agreement with the Rwandan authorities, to send refugees to the country in breach of international law. This is particularly true given the UK Government’s condemnations of Rwandan human rights record at the UN and other forums.
The UNHCR has expressed “strong opposition and concerns about the United Kingdom’s plan.” In the words of the Rwandan High Commission such act would be tantamount to people being “sold in the market like cattle”.
Putting ethics aside, one asks whether UK paying Rwanda an initial sum of £120m [with an estimated £30,000 per deportee once the scheme is up and running] delivers value for money for the tax payer, especially coming at a time when the living standard for people in Britain is in freefall. The true cost will be “eyewatering” according to Conservative MP, Andrew Mitchell.
The UK, a country renown for decades as a shining example for its rule of law and adherence to international norms, is sadly now seen as a country led by a government that repeatedly flouts, not only its domestic laws, but international laws too.
No wonder some 160 civic societies and others have so far raised concerns about the UK/Rwanda unhealthy alliance over vulnerable refugees. I have no doubt the campaign against the plan will accelerate over the coming days and weeks. In the end the UK citizens humanity, fair play, underpinned by the rule of law, will triumph and this government will eventually back down on its unworkable plan.
Habte Hagos is chair of Eritrea Focus