Kagame Left Out In The Cold After the Rwanda-UK Migration Memorandum is Halted by Courts

  • The UK-Rwandan Migration and Economic Development Partnership stirred controversy as it violates international law.
  • The European Court of Human Rights stopped the first flight of migrants before it could take off. 
  • Kagame’s motives are focused on strengthening the UK’s backing of Rwanda’s actions in the region.
Paul Kagame
Twitter: @PaulKagame

Why is Kagame cold?

Answer: The intervention of the ECHR rendered the migration partnership between Kagame and the United Kingdom (UK) null. 

In April 2022, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and former UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, signed the Migration and Economic Development Partnership. The signed Memorandum of Understanding outlined the framework for a five-year asylum collaboration, which stipulates that the UK could transfer asylum-seekers to Rwanda who would have otherwise applied for asylum in the UK in return for financial aid. The specifics of the partnership remain largely unknown, including the number of asylum seekers who would be obliged to travel to Kigali or the standards the British government is to use during the selection process of whom to send. 

In accordance with the partnership agreement, Kigali may present three options to migrants deported by the UK: go back to their country of origin, leave for a third country, or get regularised and, if permitted, settle in Rwanda. The government guarantees the right to work, adequate housing, access to social assistance and the nation’s nearly universal health insurance to individuals who choose to stay. After Rwanda’s verdicts, the already displaced refugees will not be eligible to return to the UK. All expenses of resettlement would be funded by the UK.

London stated their hope for the agreement to deter migrants from crossing the Channel precariously, whilst promising to aid the Rwandan economy with an initial funding of 140 million euros.  However, on June 14, 2022, following a series of subsequent appeals to the ECHR, and courts in London, the first scheduled flight for the transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda was suspended.

Denmark started negotiating with Rwanda for a similar deal after the UK as well. Centre-left administration of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen inked a pact with the Rwandan government similar to the one of the UK’s. However, after the opposition stirred in the global environment, the plans are currently put on hold

Who is changing Kagame’s temperature? 

Answer: The ECHR’s position coupled with international and domestic opposition and Kagame’s reputation prevents the agreement from resuming.

The zero-hour intervention of ECHR to the first plane from the UK to Kigali impeded the progress of the partnership until further notice. The UNHCR also shared the concerns of ECHR over the troubles that the standards and protections are not adequate.

Granted, as recently as 2021, The British government expressed concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record at the United Nations requisitioning “independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.” Hence, Rwanda was not even a consideration at first. 

Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary at the time, had attempted to reach a similar agreement with democratic nations like Ghana and Kenya. Both countries turned it down after receiving harsh criticism from their citizens. This led Patel and former PM Johnson to turn to Kagame, who remained unconcerned with internal opposition.

Rwanda’s opposition party leaders condemned the partnership and the UK’s decision to deport asylum seekers to Kigali when Rwanda is struggling to host over 127,000 refugees, 90% of whom reside in camps. Refugees still have limited access to electricity and potable water, even in established camps like Kiziba. Long-term residents have extended their families, but the infrastructure has not kept up. In addition, financing for long-term refugee situations is decreasing. 

The World Food Programme declared in 2021 that it will cut back on food aid to refugees in Rwanda by 60%. This indicates a significant decrease in aid provided to refugees in Rwanda leading the conditions to worsen in the future. This outlook and developments outlined above dropped Kagame’s temperature.

What is driving Kagame?

Answer: Kagame is determined to boost Rwanda’s regional influence in a region with high tensions and abundant mineral resources.

Rwanda’s motivations behind its agreement to such a deal are chiefly political. The nation is one of the most densely populated African countries already and Kagame stated the financial incentive to be far from a weighty motive due to the country’s “core values”. 

As requested by the UNHCR, Rwanda provided asylum to vulnerable migrants who had been evacuated from Libya in 2019, increasing the sanctuary provided to nearly 130,000 refugees from other nations already. According to Kagame, this experience provided the country with the know-how and empathy needed to be eligible to carry such a partnership and contribute to providing “innovative solutions to the broken asylum system”.

In the words of Jesús García-Luengos, co-founder of ReSeT and researcher at the African Studies Group of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, it is important to point to “a confluence of strictly realpolitik interests on both sides as the main driving force.” Although the agreement violates international law and human rights, Rwanda is interested in reinvigorating its relationship with the UK as a vital partner. 

With its political history and geographical placement of being a small country in a high-tension zone, Kagame is in constant need to strengthen his international alliances and position in the diplomatic sphere. A strong ally such as the UK can provide much-needed international backing in the region. Especially given the instability between neighbouring nations, in particular the destabilisation in the DCR, where Rwanda is allegedly playing a role as well. 

Mr García-Luengos explains the benefits of a stronger diplomatic relationship underlying the region’s instability and geopolitical context whose economic relevance is concentrated in DRC’s mineral wealth. “This makes the support of the UK, which may consist of helping to ease international pressure on Rwanda, very valuable.” Especially given the allegations that Rwanda supports the M23 rebel group in the Eastern DRC. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: The apparent human rights violations open up political debates regarding the future of immigration policies and how far they can be taken to be implemented. 

The UK’s strict views on asylum seekers started gaining supporters from other European nations. Regardless of the questions posed on the humanitarian aspects of immigration policies, the current UK government is still pushing for the policy. Kagame’s desire for strong allies backing him internationally and disregard for domestic opposition leaves room for a renewed agreement on his side.

The ongoing hostilities in eastern DRC, fuelled by Rwanda, could be the tinderbox in the region, erupting a Great Lakes conflagration. Ignoring the current dispute results in extreme instability in Central and East Africa. This further jeopardises the lives of the asylum seekers since deporting them to a flashpoint is not the same as making people immigrate to a country they have not chosen nor have the opportunity to.