RWanda, Priti Patel’s planned destination for processing migrants arriving in the UK, is a largely rural East African country whose authoritarian president Paul Kagame has been accused of seeking to assassinate opponents.
This mountainous, landlocked country of 12 million people, which witnessed a horrific genocide in 1994 in which 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, has benefited from generous development aid over the decades that followed.
Kagame has been celebrated by Western supporters for his role in ending the genocide and reducing poverty, although some critics have questioned the statistics.
But his leadership has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, particularly over accusations that he orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of his political opponents in order to eliminate opponents of his regime – charges he denies.
One of Kagame’s most important alleged victims was his former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, who was strangled in a hotel room while living in exile in South Africa in 2014.
Former Rwandan army chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa – who also went into exile in South Africa – survived two assassination attempts blamed on Kagame.
More recently, Rwanda was accused of kidnapping opposition figure Paul Rusesabagina in Dubai and subjecting him to what critics called a “show trial”. Rusesabagina, whose life-saving actions during the genocide were portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September after being found guilty of terrorism offenses by a court in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The US State Department said it was “concerned” about the “fairness of the verdict”. In July last year, the Guardian reported that Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, had been spied using the Pegasus malware developed by Israeli firm NSO.
British police have warned Kagame critics living in the UK that their lives could be in danger.
Despite well-documented concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record, Kagame has long enjoyed strong support from British politicians – from the Conservative and Labor parties.
Rwanda’s record of hosting refugees from the DRC has in the past come under scrutiny. In 2018, Rwandan police killed 12 refugees after a protest outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Karongi district.
Rwanda’s previous involvement in hosting African deportees from Israel raises serious concerns about whether – even with announced UK funding of £20million – it has the resources or even the will to accommodate the deportations.
Of an estimated 4,000 people who were reportedly deported by Israel to Rwanda and Uganda under a “voluntary departure” program between 2014 and 2017, almost all are believed to have left the country almost immediately, with many attempting to return to Europe through human trafficking. routes.
In addition, at least one deportee still in Rwanda, found by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2018, described being destitute and living on the streets of the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
Shrouded in secrecy and with Rwanda officially denying its involvement, details of the arrangement with Israel and the fate of some of those deported were outlined in several reports, some of which included testimonies from those who said they were sent to Rwanda.
Critics at the time, including rights group Amnesty International, also pointed out that Israel had a much lower number of refugees than Rwanda and was a much wealthier country. Amnesty accused Israel of “blaming it on countries that only have a fraction of the wealth and resources”.
A report by the International Refugee Rights Initiative interviewed a number of people who said they had been deported from Israel to Rwanda.
Testimonies collected by IRRI suggest “that the majority, if not all, smuggled out of the country overland to Kampala [in Uganda] a few days after his arrival in Kigali.
“They do not have the possibility to apply for asylum, and even if they wish to remain in Rwanda, their claims for refugee status cannot be assessed because the national refugee status determination committee has not yet was created.”
Among the very few voluntarily expelled from Israel who chose to stay was a 28-year-old Eritrean named Goitom, who spoke to the Haaretz newspaper in Kigali in 2018. He had not been allowed to work and lived in the street.
“Things are so bad. I live very badly. I have no home, there is no job,” he told the newspaper. “Before, there were a few people who helped me. The United Nations also helped – they gave me money for accommodation and food. But they stopped.