As Britain plans to send its first group of asylum seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday amid protests and legal challenges, some who came to this East African country under previous arrangements tell The Associated Press that the newcomers can expect a difficult time .
“Sometimes I play football and at night I drink because I have nothing to do,” said Faisal, a 20-year-old from Ethiopia who was moved from Libya to Rwanda in 2019 as the first group of refugees to be resettled under a deal with the United Nations. “I pray to God daily that I leave this place.”
He only gives his first name for fear of retaliation and is staying at the Gashora center built to house refugees who had languished in Libya while trying to reach Europe. Gashora is called a transit center, but some, like Faisal, have nowhere to go.
A British court on Monday refused to stop the government from deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, despite human rights defenders arguing that the planned flights would undermine the “basic dignity” of people escaping war and oppression. According to newspaper reports, the British government’s deportation plan has been widely criticized, including by Prince Charles.
Rwanda is one of the most populous countries in the world and still one of the least developed countries, despite its focus on modernization since the 1994 genocide. The migrants who sought a better life in Britain are expected to find fewer opportunities to live here. chasing their dreams, even as Rwandan officials describe their country as having a proud history of welcoming those in need.
Among those who have gained a foothold is Urubel Tesfaye, a 22-year-old from Ethiopia who is happy to have found a part-time job in a bakery in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. But his friends speak of traveling on to Canada or the Netherlands.
“They have a disease in the head and can’t settle here,” he said of their determination to move.
Hundreds of people previously sent to Rwanda under the deal with the UN have since been resettled in third countries, the UN refugee agency said. But those sent to Rwanda under the deal with Britain must apply for asylum in Rwanda.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame told diplomats in Kigali after the agreement with Britain was signed in April that his country and the UK are not buying and selling people, but are instead trying to solve a global migration problem.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said at the time that “access to Britain’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay smugglers”.
The Rwandan authorities have said the agreement would initially last five years, with the British government paying £120 million ($158 million) upfront to pay for housing and integration for the asylum seekers. Britain is expected to pay more as Rwanda accepts more migrants, although the exact number of people the UK is expected to send is unknown.
Those arriving under Rwanda’s new agreement with Britain will be housed in shelters around Kigali with amenities such as private rooms, televisions and a swimming pool. At one, the Hope Hostel, a guard patrols outside, and clocks in the lobby show the times in London and Paris.
“This is not a prison,” said manager Bakinahe Ismail.
But the Gashora center for earlier arrivals in a rural area outside the capital offers more basic amenities for shared living instead.
“The British Government, my message to them is that people are people. You can’t tell them ‘Go and stay here’ or ‘Go do this or that’. No. Because if they feel better in the UK, then the UK is better for them,” said Peter Nyuoni, a refugee from South Sudan.
“There’s nothing for me to want to stay here,” he said.
Even those who came straight to Rwanda to escape the troubles at home say the country, while peaceful, is not easy.
“If you don’t have a job, you can’t survive here,” said Kelly Nimubona, a refugee from neighboring Burundi. “We cannot afford to eat twice a day. There is no chance of getting a job on the street or working with vending machines.” But he described Rwanda as an oasis of order in the region.
The sensitivity surrounding the arrival of the first asylum seekers from Britain is so high that Rwandan officials have prevented the media from interviewing the newcomers.
“Maybe later when they’re settled,” said Claude Twishime, spokesman for the ministry of disaster relief, who will take care of them.
Rwanda already hosts more than 130,000 refugees and migrants from other African countries and countries such as Pakistan, the government said.
Some in Rwanda criticize the prospect of including more. Opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has said the government should instead focus on the internal political and social issues that drive some Rwandans to become refugees elsewhere.
For years, human rights groups have accused the Rwandan government of cracking down on alleged dissent and maintaining tight control over many aspects of life, from incarcerating critics to banning the homeless from the streets of Kigali. The government denies it.
Such tensions are expected to be just below the surface this month, when Rwanda hosts the summit of Commonwealth heads of government. Britain will take center stage there as it continues to question its deal with Rwanda.
Some Rwandans said the local economy is not ready to handle the people coming from Britain.
“Look, a lot of people are unemployed here,” said Rashid Rutazigwa, a mechanic in the capital. He said he didn’t see many opportunities, even for those with skills and training.
“But if the government promises to pay salaries to (the migrants), then it will be fine,” he added.
Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration