A week before the expected date of the first arrivals, the workers were putting the finishing touches to a small wooden shed next to the restaurant of the hostel. “It will be a store so that they can buy everything they need here instead of going outside,” explained its general manager, Ismael Bakina. Two covered spaces in the gardens will serve as smoking areas and a tent further away will serve as a maintenance room and play area.
There’s airport-style security check-in before reception, including a baggage scanner and guards with metal detectors. They are polite, professional and thorough. “As you can see, we are ready for migrants even today,” Bakina said, speaking to CNN just hours before the first round of legal challenges against deportation in the UK were launched. United last week. Legal proceedings against the policy have so far been unsuccessful and the UK’s first flight to Rwanda is due to take off on Tuesday.
Upon arrival, two migrants will share each bedroom, with shared bathrooms and laundry rooms on each floor. They will also have two red carpet prayer areas overlooking the hills of Kigali, free Wi-Fi and computers to keep up with their legal cases. Rwandan authorities stress the relative privilege that migrants will have here, compared to the provision in British detention centres.
“We want them to have safe and dignified housing, and there is also a package they will receive so they can learn skills to get an education, maybe start a business,” the door-keeper said. word of the Rwandan government, Yolande Makolo, to CNN.
The UK has said it will pay Rwanda £120m ($145m) over the next five years to fund the scheme. In addition to this, the UK has also promised to pay processing and integration costs for each relocated person, covering the cost of legal advice, social workers, translators, accommodation, food and health care. According to a parliamentary research briefing, the UK government said it expects these costs to be similar to the costs of processing asylum applications in the UK, which is around £12,000 per person .
The United Kingdom refused to disclose the cost of the flights it will charter to transport the deportees to Rwanda. The Home Office said in its latest annual report that it paid £8.6million to charter 47 deportation flights carrying 883 people in 2020. While the cost of individual flights varied by destination, the figures mean that on average the Home Office spent £183,000 per flight or £9,700 per person.
Because there is no cap on the number of migrants, thousands could potentially flock to Kigali in the first five years of the plan.
HRW has been monitoring and investigating human rights conditions in Rwanda for decades and has documented abuses ranging from “repression of freedom of expression, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture by Rwandan authorities”.
The British plan has also drawn criticism from the only opposition party that ran against Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the last election, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, which says the country cannot afford it. “Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Do you think for Rwanda it will be easy to help these people?” Jean Claude Ntezimana, the secretary general told CNN.
Rwanda is almost a tenth the size of the UK, but is home to nearly 13 million people, nearly a fifth of Britain’s population.
The Green Party accuses the UK of breaching its international obligations by shipping its unwanted migrants 4,000 miles to Rwanda. “When it’s not the choice of the refugees, it’s inhumane and illegal,” Ntezimana said.
The Rwandan government maintains that this is perfectly legal.
“No laws are being broken with this partnership,” Makolo told CNN. “Nothing in the Refugee Convention prevents asylum seekers from being relocated to another safe country.”
Makolo admits that a similar program with Israel did not work out and that Rwanda abandoned it “very quickly”. But, she says, the UK migrant deal is totally different and will succeed. In fact, she said, Rwanda may soon be accepting migrants from Denmark as well, with negotiations nearing conclusion.
More recently, Rwanda partnered with the UN refugee agency to host vulnerable asylum seekers evacuated from Libya. Just over 1,000 migrants have passed through the Gashora Emergency Transit Center during the program’s three years of operation. Migrants stay between four and eight months on average before being resettled abroad, according to the head of the center. Migrants have three choices: resettlement elsewhere, voluntary repatriation to their country of origin or local integration into Rwandan society. No one chose the latter two, according to Fares Ruyumbu, the camp manager.
“You cannot compare (Libya and Rwanda),” said Zemen Fesaha, 26, an Eritrean refugee at Gashora transit centre. He spent four years in what he described as horrific conditions in Libya as he tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. “It’s like going from hell to heaven.”
Although the 11 months he spent in Rwanda in the camp were safer and easier, he is determined to leave.
And Zemen is not the only one in this case. None of the refugees at the emergency center CNN spoke to wanted to stay in Rwanda.
Nyalada Gatluak Jany, 26, from South Sudan, dreams of moving to Finland with her one-and-a-half-year-old son. “What I want isn’t here, it’s over there,” she said.