Iain Overton travelled to Rwanda to investigate the ability of the Rwandan Government to uphold its refugees’ human rights. Why has he been stopped in his tracks?

A Byline Times journalist has failed to gain press accreditation to report on the human rights conditions of refugees in Rwanda – raising concerns around fair and open reporting of the Government’s controversial deal to send asylum seekers to the country.

The Government has launched a programme to send some asylum seekers arriving in Britain to the landlocked country – 10,000 km away – to discourage people from crossing the English Channel. 

Iain Overton – head of the Byline Intelligence Team – travelled to the Rwandan capital Kigali this month, having submitted his request for press accreditation 30 days ago. But, despite paying the media visa fee and exchanging in excess of 100 messages with the Rwandan Media Commission, he has not been issued accreditation.

The Commission’s representative, Biganiro Guy, claimed that the application was ‘under process’ more than a month after being submitted. The Rwanda Media Commission’s website stated that it would take seven days to process media visas when the application was submitted on 11 July.  This estimation has since been changed to read ‘depends on the case’. The Commission did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

Overton – who has won two Amnesty awards for his human rights coverage – travelled to Rwanda to investigate the ability of the Rwandan Government to uphold its refugees’ human rights.

Setting the Record Straighton Rwanda’s Asylum System

Brad Blitz

Twelve refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo protesting outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Karongi District, Western Province, were shot and killed by Rwandan police in 2018. There is still no justice for the killings.

A year later, Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said that “there can be no justification for shooting at unarmed protestors” and that the “Rwandan Government is trampling on the graves of the victims by refusing to acknowledge how many people were actually killed or holding those responsible to account”.

The Home Secretary has said that journalists criticising Rwanda for its human rights abuses are in danger of being xenophobic. She is yet to reference the recent Rwandan killings of refugees in any of her speeches in the House of Commons. 

The failure of the Rwandan Media Commission to issue a visa to an investigative journalist for Byline Times stands in contrast to its granting of a visa to a Daily Mail journalist. Earlier this year, Nick Fagge wrote a report in which he stated that refugees from the UK will be put up at taxpayers’ expense in a Kigali hotel “with a swimming pool, spa facilities, free WIFI, flat screen TVs with satellite channels, a tennis court, a gym and access to a golf course”. 

It is understood that other British journalists deemed critical of the Rwandan Government have also experienced delays to their press accreditation, with permission granted long after the reporters have left the country.

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The failure of the Rwandan Government to grant permission to journalists to investigate its human rights raises concerns about the degree to which reporting on asylum seekers sent to Rwanda from Britain will be possible. 

“I find it very disappointing that the Rwandan Government seem to bar entry to journalists deemed to be critical of the regime,” said Deborah Bonetti, director of the Foreign Press Association in London. “A free press is critical to a functioning democracy, such as Rwanda deems itself to be.”

Officials for the east African nation have confirmed that they have received an initial payment of £120 million for the agreement, signed in April. But no asylum seekers have yet been sent to Rwanda from the UK, and it may lose this amount if the plan is ruled unlawful by the courts. 

Meanwhile, a report by MPs found no evidence that asylum seekers would be deterred by the Rwanda scheme – noting that double the number of people are predicted to arrive in small boats in 2022, compared to 2021.

The Home Office states that it “has looked at the country conditions and assessed that Rwanda is generally a safe country for asylum seekers and refugees” and that, where concerns have been raised, “mitigations have been put in place”.

Iain Overton, head of the Byline Intelligence Team, is the executive director of the Action On Armed Violence charity

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