Prime Minister Johnson seeks domestic political capital over the backs of asylum-seekers
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame have now concluded a devious and evil plan to ship asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom to Rwanda. This has sparked a frenzy of deserved public and international outrage.
A group of 160 U.K. charities have called it “inhumane, cruel, immoral, and a breach of the international Refugee Convention.” In his Easter sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby called it the “opposite of the nature of God”, and that the principle behind the plan “cannot stand the judgement of God”.
Former British Prime Minister Theresa May questions the “legality, practicality and efficacy” of the Johnson-Kagame deal. Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the UK Home Office has said he is not sure the plan will provide any value for the taxpayer’s money.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated “UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards…contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”.
Prime Minister Johnson and his Home Secretary Priti Patel have falsely argued that the US $156 million plus down-payment to Rwanda is a “migration and economic development partnership” that will break the illegal business model of people-smuggling. Both Johnson and Secretary Patel describe Rwanda as “one of the fastest growing economies of Africa which is recognized globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants”. Perhaps here Mr. Johnson and Ms. Patel are referring to similar cruel deals in which Israel has deported Eritreans and other African migrants to Rwanda. The Libyan authorities are also under a European Union-Rwanda deal. Denmark will soon embark on a similar inhumane course of shipping its asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
Mr. Johnson has blatantly criticized those who have questioned his deal with Mr. Kagame, saying they should be more vocal against Putin and his war in Ukraine.
Who are these asylum seekers that are not wanted and being rejected in the U.K.? What kind of country are they being sent to? What is the nature of Rwanda’s government and the man who has ruled it for the last 28 years? What does Mr. Johnson hope to get out of the deal? What does Mr. Kagame want out of it? Who are the winners and losers in the deal?
For some of us who are, or have been refugees, it is clear that Prime Minister Johnson’s whole life in a protected bubble has not led him to fully appreciate the hell asylum-seekers have to go through to be uprooted and seek refuge in distant lands. However, Home Secretary Patel’s Ugandan-Indian heritage should have taught her that brutal Ugandan dictator, Gen. Idi Amin, overnight made many of her kith and kin homeless refugees in 1972. That’s how Ms. Patel’s family ended up in Britain. When Amin summarily expelled Ugandans of Asian ancestry and other Asians residing in the country.
An asylum seeker’s journey is a high risk, high-stakes, one-option-only life and death undertaking. It is indeed inhumane and cruel to reject asylum-seekers on the basis that they have been smuggled into your country. Rejecting asylum-seekers and shipping them to Rwanda is analogous to jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
As for conditions in Rwanda, on July 8, 2021, the U.K. International Ambassador, Rita French, stated: “We regret that Rwanda did not support our recommendation, which was also made by other States, to conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.”
In its “2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda,” the U.S State Department went further:
“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country, including killings, kidnappings, and violence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations.”
This characterization tells part of the tragic state of governance in Rwanda, a country and a people who have witnessed multi-generational trauma from civil wars, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The costly regime change of 1994, like those that preceded it in the 1973 military takeover and the 1959 violent revolution, put in place an absolute dictator unwilling to lead the nation to mutual healing, reconciliation and shared prosperity in a deeply divided society. The whole Rwandan nation is now hostage to him, closely resembling a detention or concentration camp.
Rwanda, just over 10,000 square miles and with a population of over 13 million, is one of the most densely populated countries on planet earth. By comparison neighboring Uganda is over 93,000 square miles with a population of over 46 million. The majority of Rwanda’s citizens are poor rural peasants living on less than $2 per day. This does not match the imaginary country that Mr. Johnson and Ms. Patel are echoing from Mr. Kagame’s official catechism.
In President Kagame, successive U.K. and U.S. administrations have placed enormous financial, diplomatic, and geo-political capital in supporting the regime’s false narrative of “political rebirth” and “economic miracle.” Out of guilt—for failing to do more to help halt the 1994 genocide—and bare-knuckle geo-strategic considerations, the U.K., U.S. and recently France, have shielded President Kagame from accountability for despotic rule, well documented human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity and even possible acts of genocide in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In London, Washington D.C, and Paris, the true nature of President Kagame is a public secret. Yet, in the secret chambers of statecraft they most likely admit, “Yes, he is another Putin, but he is our African Putin. He is the sole richest oligarch in Rwanda, but he serves our interests. Who cares about those Black people”. Realpolitik 101.
The losers in this unholy scheme are the asylum-seekers being banished to the concentration camp of a nation, the British taxpayers who have to finance the Johnson-Kagame sinister gamble—thus enriching an African despot to entrench himself in power by violent means—and the Rwandan people who have to bear the extended years of repeated trauma.
Suffice it to say that the Johnson-Kagame deal is the latest, but not the first nor the last, in a pattern of unethical transactions that span 28 years. Mr. Johnson has blatantly gone the extra mile, hoping against hope to regain political capital out of his domestic woes. Mr. Kagame is richer and expects from Mr. Johnson that no questions will be asked about accountability for governance in Rwanda, human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The asylum-seekers are the hapless pawns.
When British Royalty and Prime Minister Johnson grace the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) being hosted by President Kagame on June 20, 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, it will be an occasion for the partying elite to once again ignore the interests of asylum-seekers, the British people, and the ordinary Rwandan people who will not be seen or heard at the event venues.
The celebration will be premature. The Johnson-Kagame asylum seekers deal is doomed to fail because it is evil.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, a physician, is Rwanda’s former Ambassador to the United States