UK Home Secretary’s visit to Rwanda sparks controversy over migrant deportation deal

On Saturday, British Home Secretary Suella Braverman traveled to Rwanda to discuss an agreement between the UK and the east African country to deport asylum seekers who arrive in the UK. The partnership is part of Britain’s plans to detain and deport asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel. However, it has faced legal challenges and criticism from campaigners. Rwandan President Paul Kagame is also under international pressure over his government’s support of the M23 rebel group, accused of perpetuating summary killings and rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

During her visit, Braverman met Kagame and stated that the removal of migrants could be put into action shortly. The UK agreed to deport tens of thousands of migrants and refugees to Rwanda as part of a $146m deal last year, but no flights have taken off as the policy is being challenged in the courts. Earlier this week, ten asylum seekers from a range of countries won permission in a British court to challenge the UK’s Rwanda policy, arguing that the government has failed to consider the dangers and risks of deporting them to a country with a poor track record of protecting refugees.

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Most migrants and refugees make these journeys because of conflict in their home countries, political repression, climate disaster, or economic hardship. Many have family in Britain, or other connections to the country. When they arrive in the UK, the British government pays for them to be housed in hotels, detention centres or other facilities while their asylum claims are processed. However, this process often takes years, and the asylum seekers are not allowed to work during this time.

Zoe Gardner, a migration policy expert, called Braverman’s visit to Rwanda “another publicity stunt to keep the British government’s cruel intentions, rather than its actual failures, in the news”. Gardner said that the real impact of the British government’s asylum bill “won’t be to send any more than a handful of people to Rwanda”. She added that “rather than pushing through this inhumane and unworkable policy,” ministers should focus on establishing safe routes to the UK and tackling the unacceptable backlog of asylum claims, so people fleeing war and persecution can rebuild their lives with dignity.

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Both the UK and Rwandan governments have sought to focus attention on “breaking the business model of criminal people smuggling.” Yolande Makolo, a Rwandan government spokesperson, said that Rwanda was “committed to protecting vulnerable people around the world” and was “ready to offer asylum seekers and migrants safety and the opportunity to build a new life in Rwanda.” Rwanda plays a significant military role in its region, both as a sponsor of the M23 militia in eastern Congo and as a provider of counter-insurgency forces to Mozambique, Central African Republic, and Benin. The Rwandan military is protecting workers for the French oil company Total in Mozambique. The UK tried to strike a similar asylum deal with Ghana and Kenya, but was turned down by both.