Braverman Praises Rwanda while US State Department Slams Human Rights Abuses in the East African Nation
Brian Latham reports on the dangers facing migrants deported to Rwanda, and an overlooked clause which allows Rwandan refugees to be resettled in the UK
Towards the end of the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Rwanda there’s a clause that’s been lost in the cacophony of debate. Clause 16 states that “the participants will make arrangements for the United Kingdom to resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees in the United Kingdom.’’
The agreement, signed by former Home Secretary Priti Patel, doesn’t say how big or small a “portion’’ is, but it does mean that the Rwanda scheme is little more than an exchange of bodies – a trade. Britain will send to Rwanda asylum seekers it says are illegal and Rwanda will send to the UK refugees it – or the United Nations – says are “most vulnerable.’’
Refugees in Rwandan camps mainly come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but there are also thousands who’ve been displaced by conflict in South Sudan and some who’ve fled oppression in Eritrea and elsewhere in a region marked by decades of turmoil.
What the MOU doesn’t make clear is why a refugee exchange is beneficial – not least to those souls exchanged. Instead, it seems obvious that from Britain’s point of view, the objective is to punish people who attempt to seek asylum here without the bothersome burden of the courts and to trade those people for… well, that’s less clear because all refugees are vulnerable by definition. Perhaps it means women and unaccompanied children, but it doesn’t say.
That lack of explicit precision must concern Britain’s strained social services. Should they anticipate an influx of traumatised women who’ve been gang raped by rebels in the Congo’s war-ravaged eastern provinces? Child soldiers, who’ve committed atrocities, on Rwanda’s dollar, in the region? No one knows and, apparently, no one’s been forewarned.
Also unclear is why Suella Braverman makes no mention of the exchange of human beings. It reduces those human beings to pawns in a strange game that has echoes of prisoner swaps in wartime. But Britain isn’t at war – and even if hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers were taking to small boats to get here, that would not be war. It would be a problem, but anybody who has been to war will laugh at the suggestion that cold, wet, unarmed civilians in a little boat represent war.
Braverman’s silence on the exchange aspect of the MOU might indicate that she has no intention of honouring clause 16. Britain has a history of reneging in Africa, sometimes with tragic consequences. It’s plausible that no refugees encamped in Rwanda will be flown to Britain. It’s also likely that some wouldn’t want to settle here. Either way, British voters don’t know because the agreement signed in April last year doesn’t say.
What we do know is that while Home Secretary Suella Braverman stood on a lush Kigali lawn to announce that Rwanda is ‘’one of the world’s safest countries,’’ the U.S State Department released its annual human rights report detailing Rwanda’s human rights abuses. Braverman’s timing could not have been worse. The State Department report, dry and free from hyperbole, is the benchmark for human rights NGOs and charities around the world. It shows that Rwanda is extremely unsafe for anyone who disagrees with its government.
According to the State Department, Rwanda has ‘’significant human rights issues,’’ among them:
“Credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; transnational repression against individuals located outside the country, including killings, kidnappings, and violence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations.’’
The State Department report makes the trade-in humans all the more inexplicable, and will almost certainly result in some degree of diplomatic pressure and criticism from Washington, where anxiety over East Africa remains high. While the State Department doesn’t mention Britain’s refugee exchange programme with Rwanda, that’s not unusual. Their annual reports are country-specific and the US rarely criticises its allies publicly.