The Rwandan government has hit back at “insulting” criticism of plans to relocate migrants from the UK.
Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for the east African nation’s administration, said opponents were “missing the bigger picture” about the efforts being made to improve the standard of living in the country and offer better opportunities so they do not lose their young people to “Europe” as well as provide a safe haven for refugees.
Speaking to reporters in Kigali on Tuesday as the first deportation flight prepared to leave Britain, Ms Makolo said: “There’s a point that we want to get across as Africans, that Africa should not be looked at as a place that creates problems and creates migrants and creates refugees.
“Of course we have conflict, but we also have pockets of safety and growth and opportunities like in Rwanda as well.”
She added: “And the reason we’ve been asked ‘why don’t migrants want to come to Rwanda?’ Part of it is the narrative that’s out there that Africa is a s***hole, for want of a better word and it’s not true.
“It’s insulting for us who live here and work really hard to make our country work. We want to see Africa succeed, we want Africans to stay here and build this country.
“The details of the scheme are important and we want to be transparent but we don’t want this other story to get lost about what we are trying to do.”
Asked for her response to claims that Prince Charles privately described the policy as “appalling” – ahead of his visit to the country next week as part of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting – she said: “People can have their own opinion. But we are there to explain what we are about and what this country is about. And we’re very happy that he’s coming.”
Ms Makolo said there was a “bigger picture” which was “very interesting for us, as Rwandans, as Africans. We question this idea that opportunities can only be found in the West. Why is migration flowing that way? Rwandans have worked really hard to build this country”.
She said efforts were made to restore “hearts and minds” in the wake of the 1994 civil war, adding: “The majority of Rwandans are proud of this country and they are proud to welcome people here.
“The reason we’re able to do this partnership with the UK is we have functioning services that we’ve worked really hard to put in place. It’s not perfect but it works. We do the best we can with the means that we have.”
Asked about a previous arrangement to resettle Israeli refugees in Rwanda which was later abandoned, Ms Makolo said it “was not a success and was very short lived. This was years ago, it lasted a very short time and we quickly got out of it”, adding the latest plan “is very, very different”, describing it as “comprehensive and well-resourced” and likening it to work she said the country has carried out to help refugees evacuating from Libya.
Ms Makolo also stressed that homosexuality was not a crime, when asked what provisions were being made for LGBT migrants.
She said counsellors and social workers were on hand if support was required, adding: “Discrimination is what destroyed this country in the first place in 1994. That’s what led to the destruction here so we would be the last country to discriminate against anybody.”
No-one will be discriminated against, she said, adding that officials will work with individuals to make sure they feel “safe” and “protected”.
Earlier Ms Makolo told a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government did not believe being sent to Rwanda should be regarded as a “punishment” by migrants and that the deal had been struck “for the right reasons”.
She said the government expected to receive “thousands” of migrants over the lifetime of the partnership, which will see the UK invest £120 million in growth and development in Rwanda as well as picking up the resettlement costs.
“Rwanda has a strong record of providing safety for those in danger. Tomorrow, when the first flight lands here in Kigali, the new arrivals will be welcomed and will be looked after and supported to make new lives here,” she said.
Ms Makolo rejected a complaint by the Archbishop of Canterbury that the policy was “immoral”, insisting Rwanda wanted to help tackle the global migration crisis by undermining the activities of the people traffickers encouraging asylum seekers to make the dangerous Channel crossing.
“We don’t think it’s immoral to offer a home to people,” she said.
“We were doing this for the right reasons. We understand that there might be opposition to this but we are asking them to give this programme a chance because it’s a solution.
“There are not many solutions, people are suffering, the asylum system is broken and being taken advantage of by criminal gangs that exploit people making false promises.
“People are risking their lives in these dangerous crossings, so something has to give and we are happy to be working on this solution with our UK partners.”
Some migrants have reportedly said they would rather kill themselves rather than be sent to the country amid concerns over its human rights record under President Paul Kagame.
However Ms Makolo said such concerns reflected “misconceptions” about Africa which do not “reflect the reality”.
“We do not consider living in Rwanda a punishment… we do our best to provide a conducive environment for Rwandans to develop and for anyone else who comes to live here with us,” she said.