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‘Japa’ Blues: UK, Rwanda sign fresh asylum-seeking, migration treaty

Sacked British Home Secretary Suella Braverman (2nd left) with Rwandan Government Officials, Inspecting the Accommodations for Asylum-Seekers and Migrants from the UK, Still Under Construction When She Visited the East African Country in 2022 File Photo

*Civil rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, however, warn the British Government to ‘open its eyes to Rwanda’s track record of human rights violations, including against refugees and asylum seekers’

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Affirming an extant but controversial bilateral cooperation on the treatment of asylum-seekers and other migrants, the United Kingdom (UK) and Rwanda Tuesday, December 5, 2023, signed a new treaty to revive a proposal by London to transfer migrants to the East African country.

The fresh agreement was signed by Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta and new British Interior Minister James Cleverly, AFP report said.

Cleverly was said to have travelled to Kigali to salvage London’s stalled bid to send migrants to Rwanda during the term of office of Ms. Suella Braverman KC, sacked British Home Secretary amid cabinet reshuffle, after the UK Supreme Court blocked an earlier arrangement as unlawful.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Earlier, the Judges had affirmed a lower court’s decision, that the asylum-seeking and migration policy was incompatible with Britain’s international obligations because Kigali could forcibly return migrants to places where they could face persecution, report noted.

However, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reportedly, had vowed to get along with the contentious project by securing the new treaty with Rwanda.

He equally vowed to “address concerns” raised in the Supreme Court’s ruling November this year.

Speaking at a joint media briefing in Kigali, Cleverly said: “There is a lot of desire to continue to improve the process. The UK and Rwanda are working on this because it is important.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Biruta also stated: “Rwanda is very committed to this partnership, and that is why we worked with the UK Government to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court.

“We do not have plans to withdraw from this partnership.”

In terms of legal challenges dogging the agreement between the two countries, Alain Mukuralinda, Deputy Spokesman for Rwanda’s government, said the two countries would “set up a joint tribunal with both Rwandan and UK judges in Kigali… to make sure that none of the immigrants sent to Rwanda is deported to their (home) country.”

Mukuralinda, nonetheless, said “this tribunal will have to be approved and voted (on) by parliaments from both countries.”

Although further details of the new agreement were not available, British media reports indicated that it would include commitments by Rwanda regarding the treatment of asylum-seekers and other migrants sent the African country.

British PM’s frustration with Supreme Court’s decision

The UK Supreme Court decision November 2023 was a major setback for Sunak, who also plans to pass “emergency legislation” in parliament to designate Rwanda a safe country to end the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges, according to report.

Sunak, in The Sun tabloid Tuesday, also wrote: “I’m fed up with our Rwanda policy being blocked.

“I’ve got the government working on emergency laws to end the merry-go-round so that we can fix this problem once and for all — and stop the boats.”

A UK-Rwanda migration “partnership” agreed April 2022 had envisaged sending to Kigali anyone who has made what London calls “dangerous or illegal journeys” to Britain on small boats from Europe or hidden in lorries.

‘Rwanda is a safe country’

The first deportees were aboard a plane to fly there June 2022 when a last-minute European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) injunction prevented any deportations, prompting the further legal challenges on the asylum-seeking and migration agreement.

The plan has also come under fire from activists, with Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director at Human Rights Watch.

Ahmed urged the British Government Tuesday to “open its eyes to Rwanda’s track record of human rights violations, including against refugees and asylum seekers.”

Rwanda has been de facto led by Paul Kagame since the 1994 genocide, and the veteran President is seeking to extend his iron-fisted rule in elections next year after winning nearly 99 percent of the vote in 2017.

However, the UK Government has reportedly insisted that the bilateral scheme is crucial to deter “illegal” immigration across the Channel from France on inflatable vessels — an emotive issue set to feature prominently in General Elections expected next year.

Nearly 30,000 have made the perilous journey this year — down on the nearly 46,000 who crossed in 2022, but still far short of meeting Sunak’s vow to “stop the boats”, report said.

Cleverly noted inna statement ahead of his visit to Rwanda: “We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives.”

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