22 April 2022
Despite having a much-criticised track record concerning its treatment of refugees, Rwanda has signed deals with both the United Kingdom and Denmark that involve receiving deported asylum seekers and irregular migrants from both the countries for processing and potential permanent relocation.
In mid-April, Rwanda and the UK finalised an “economic development partnership” whose centrepiece is the UK proposal to send people attempting to enter the UK irregularly to Rwanda. The deportees would be allowed to remain in Rwanda or return to their home countries. According to the Guardian, it is expected that people removed will initially be taken to a hostel in Kigali for processing.
The highly controversial deal has been harshly criticised by UK church leaders, opposition politicians, and national and international refugee rights advocates. While the UK insists that Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, it harshly criticised the country last year for its human rights record.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) harshly criticised the deal, saying that it “does not support the externalisation of asylum states’ obligations. This includes measures taken by states to transfer asylum seekers and refugees to other countries, with insufficient safeguards to protect their rights, or where this leads to the shifting rather than the sharing of responsibilities to protect refugees.”
The UK NGO Detention Action said that people sent to Rwanda could face “indefinite detention under a government notorious for violent persecution of dissent.” The organisation also highlighted that “the UK currently gives asylum to Rwandan refugees fleeing political persecution.” Human Rights Watch recalled that in 2018, Rwandan security forces shot dead at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo when they protested a cut to food rations. Authorities subsequently arrested and prosecuted more than 60 refugees on charges including rebellion and spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.
Previously, in June 2021, Denmark signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration issues with Rwanda. The agreement seeks to strengthen Rwanda’s “Refugee Status Determination” capability and envisages the processing of asylum applications to take place outside of the EU.
Just weeks before the MoU was signed, UNHCR had urged Denmark to avoid externalising their asylum obligations as the practice “frustrates access to international protection, is inconsistent with global solidarity and responsibility sharing, regularly undermines the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and thus violates international obligations of States.”
The MoU mentions Rwanda’s ETM centre in Gashora, which has been sharply criticised for abuses suffered by refugees evacuated from Libya who have been housed there. In April 2020, a Rwandan police commander was accused of sexually assaulting a child refugee at the ETM centre. Rwanda’s police force accused the refugees of lying, saying they were unhappy with coronavirus-related restrictions and that the boy was drunk.
It is unclear whether the Danish government has sent anyone to Rwanda yet. According to Infomigrants, while the memorandum of understanding is not legally binding, signed in late April, it sets the framework for future negotiations and cooperation between both countries.
As of 2020, there were 139,491 refugees and 465 asylum seekers in Rwanda, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. The government began vaccinating refugees against COVID-19 in March 2021, including more than 200 refugees residing in the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) Centre in Gashora.
Rwanda initially set up the ETM in mid-2019 for the purpose of housing refugees and migrants evacuated from Libya by UNHCR and the African Union. As of March 2021, there were 303 refugees and asylum seekers staying at the ETM centre. In November 2021, Rwanda, the African Union, and UNHCR signed an Addendum to the Memorandum of Understanding of the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre to continue evacuating third country nationals from Libya. The extension of the agreement ensured the continuation of the operation at the ETM centre until 31 December 2021 and expanded its capacity from 500 to 700 places.
- Syal, R. and Badshah, N. “UK to Send Asylum Seekers to Rwanda for Processing,” The Guardian, 13 April 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/apr/13/priti-patel-finalises-plan-to-send-asylum-seekers-to-rwanda
- Syal, R. “Tens of Thousands of Asylum Seekers Could be Sent to Rwanda, says Johnson,” The Guardian, 14 April 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/apr/14/tens-of-thousands-of-asylum-seekers-could-be-sent-to-rwanda-says-boris-johnson
- UNHCR, “Rwanda Vaccinates Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Against COVID-19,” 12 March 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2021/3/604b63ed4/rwanda-vaccinates-refugees-asylum-seekers-against-covid-19.html
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder: Rwanda,” accessed on 19 April 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=O1wSun
- UNICEF, “UNICEF Rwanda Humanitarian Situation Report: July-September 2021,” 10 October 2021, https://reliefweb.int/report/rwanda/unicef-rwanda-humanitarian-situation-report-july-september-2021
- Tamfu, H. G. “Rwanda, the African Union and UNHCR Extend Agreement to Support the Emergency Evacuation of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers From Libya,” 5 November 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/afr/news/latest/2021/11/61862e1e4/rwanda-the-african-union-and-unhcr-extend-agreement-to-support-the-emergency.html
- Mellersh, N. “Denmark Seeks to Externalise Asylum Obligations to Rwanda,” Infomigrants, 5 June 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/32041/denmark-seeks-to-externalize-asylum-obligations-to-rwanda
- Hayden, S. “Rwandan Police Chief Accused of Sexual Assault of Child Refugee at UN Centre,” The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/27/rwandan-police-chief-accused-of-sexual-assault-of-child-refugee-at-un-centre
- Outside of the Gashora Transit Centre (Sally Hayden, "Rwandan Police Chief Accused of Sexual Assault of Child Refugee at UN Centre," The Guardian, 27 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/27/rwandan-police-chief-accused-of-sexual-assault-of-child-refugee-at-un-centre)
20 January 2022
The United Kingdom is reportedly considering sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of an offshore resettlement and processing scheme that would be allowed under the UK government’s proposed new Nationality and Borders Bill. Ghana was also named as a possible destination, although Ghana’s foreign minister quickly disavowed such a possibility, saying that the country had not “engaged with the UK on any such plan and does not intend to consider any such operation in the future.”
It would not be the first time that Rwanda played such a role. The country was previously involved in receiving deportees from Israel under a “voluntary departure” scheme between 2014 and 2017. Around 4,000 people were deported under that scheme to Rwanda and Uganda and almost all are thought to have left the country almost immediately, many attempting to return to Europe. Testimonies collected by the International Refugee Rights Initiative found that following their arrival in Rwanda from Israel, “people were being smuggled out of the country by land to Kampala within days.” Testimonies also highlighted that people were “not given an opportunity to apply for asylum, and even if they wish to stay in Rwanda, their refugee claims cannot be assessed as the national refugee status determination committee has not yet been established.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Rwanda has registered 125,568 COVID-19 cases and 1,411 related deaths. It is unclear whether the country ceased or restricted deportations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, on 14 April 2021, two Ugandan nationals were arrested and declared “prohibited immigrants” for staying irregularly in the country. Four days later, they were abandoned at the Katuna border post with a deportation note: “Take note that you are declared a prohibited immigrant in Rwanda within the meaning of Articles 12 and 15 of Law 57/2018 of 13/08/2018 on Immigration and Emigration in Rwanda.”
According to UNHCR data, there were 139,491 refugees and 465 asylum seekers in the country in 2020 and 122,806 refugees and 228 asylum seekers in mid-2021. Rwanda included refugees and asylum seekers in their priority list within the country’s national vaccination plan. In March 2021, the country began providing vaccinations to refugees and prison populations as these groups reside in crowded settings. The UNHCR, which has urged all countries to include forcibly displaced and stateless people in their national vaccination programmes, praised the Rwandan government’s efforts. Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR representative in Rwanda said: “Ensuring that refugees are included in the vaccine programme is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Their inclusion in the national vaccination rollout is another mark of the Government of Rwanda’s generosity and humanitarian commitment towards the cause of refugees and asylum seekers.”
- Beaumont, P. “Rwanda’s History of Receiving Deportees Raises Concerns for Potential UK Scheme,” The Guardian, 17 January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/17/rwanda-uk-asylum-seekers-deportees-israel-scheme
- Electronic Immigration Network, “Ghana completely rejects claims that it would be willing to receive asylum seekers from the UK for offshore processing,”18 January 2022, https://www.ein.org.uk/news/ghana-completely-rejects-claims-it-would-be-willing-receive-asylum-seekers-uk-offshore
- Syal, R. and Sabbagh, D. “Royal Navy Unlikely to Pursue Channel Refugee ‘Pushback’ Policy,” The Guardian, 17 January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/17/military-to-be-used-to-stem-channel-crossings-as-johnson-seeks-to-stay-pm
- Swinford, S. “Boris Johnson Calls in Military to Stem Flow of Migrants,” The Times, 16 January 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/boris-johnson-calls-in-military-to-stem-flow-of-migrants-xnltcb5x8
- UK Parliament, “Nationality and Borders Bill,” accessed on 18 January 2022, https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3023
- International Refugee Rights Initiative, “I was Left with Nothing: Voluntary Departures of Asylum Seekers from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda,” September 2015, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/IWasLeftWithNothing.pdf
- Kungu Al-Mahadi, A. “Seeking Work in Rwanda Declared Illegal as Two Female Ugandans are Deported,” Soft Power, 19 April 2021, https://www.softpower.ug/seeking-work-in-rwanda-declared-illegal-as-two-female-ugandans-are-deported/
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder: Rwanda,” accessed on 18 January 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=nR07Xt
- Sibomana, E. “First Refugees Receive COVID-19 Vaccinations in Rwanda,” UNHCR, 12 March 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2021/3/604b7a4f4/first-refugees-receive-covid-19-vaccinations-rwanda.html
- Binagwaho, A. “How Rwanda is Managing its COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout Plans,” The Conversation, 19 April 2021, https://theconversation.com/how-rwanda-is-managing-its-covid-19-vaccination-rollout-plans-158987
- A Refugee Receiving his COVID-19 Vaccination at the Gashora Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Rwanda, (Plaisir Muzogeye, "First Refugees Receive COVID-19 Vaccinations in Rwanda," UNHCR, 12 March 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2021/3/604b7a4f4/first-refugees-receive-covid-19-vaccinations-rwanda.html)
18 April 2020
Refugees and migrants, relocated to Rwanda from Libya and subsequently held in Gashora Emergency Transit Centre outside Kigali, have protested against their lockdown. Rwanda has accepted several hundred persons, evacuated from Libya’s notorious detention facilities. Some have been screened and approved for relocation to countries including Canada and Norway, but the lockdown has suspended their onward travel, leaving them stuck in the transit centre indefinitely. UNHCR reportedly issued a statement urging calm and emphasised that Rwandan laws have ordered the various restrictions in place.
- Voice of America, “Refugees Protest Under Coronavirus Lockdown in Rwanda,” 17 April 2020, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/refugees-protest-under-coronavirus-lockdown-rwanda
- KT Press, “Govt, UNHCR Move to Restore Calm Among Refugees,” 18 April 2020, https://www.ktpress.rw/2020/04/govt-unhcr-move-to-restore-calm-among-refugees/
- A police officer stands at the deserted crossing point between Rwanda and the DRC amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19 (Reuters, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/refugees-protest-under-coronavirus-lockdown-rwanda)