Voices: I came to Britain to escape dangers in Rwanda – I’m shocked Priti Patel wants to send vulnerable people there

·3-min read
The voices of Rwandan people have gone almost unnoticed by the international community (PA)
The voices of Rwandan people have gone almost unnoticed by the international community (PA)

Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to every single one of us, anywhere in the world. Is it right then that we “offshore” asylum seekers to Rwanda, or anywhere else, for that matter?

It feels both cruel and inhumane to those wishing to seek safety in the UK, misrepresenting the generosity of the British public, while shifting responsibility to a smaller and poorer country with its own terrifying past.

As a British citizen of Rwandan origin, I know better than most the country’s challenges, failings and regional instabilities.

Rwanda is a small country of just 12 million people. Over half of its people live in poverty, according to the World Bank, and families everywhere struggle with totally inadequate health services. Human rights abuses of Rwandans by their own leaders have been documented by various bodies over the past 28 years.

As Rwanda’s opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, warned recently, and with great bravery, in The Times: “Everybody knows that we have a dictatorship in Rwanda. That is not a secret. It is unacceptable that a democratic country sends refugees to a non-democratic country.”

There is an uncomfortable irony in the British government’s plan to “off-shore” those seeking safety and protection to a country whose own people are in danger.

The voices of Rwandan people, meanwhile, have gone almost unnoticed by the international community. Their plight is being exploited by the UK government in the name of tackling human trafficking.

If the UK government is truly committed to helping Rwanda too, there are several steps it could take.

Firstly, it could encourage Rwandan leaders to follow the Commonwealth Charter and the UK’s most recent recommendations at Rwanda’s Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights. Secondly, it could redirect the £120m earmarked by the government towards building institutions that advocate for the rule of law and to give voice to Rwandan citizens who are being tortured and dying in prison.

Thirdly, it could help end poverty and hunger in Rwanda by investing in entrepreneurial ideas, supporting regional trade and combating malnutrition in rural areas.

The government claims the offshoring policy is the only solution for migrants and asylum seekers. Has it already forgotten the response of the British public to the Ukrainian refugee crisis? If the British public can open their doors to the people of Ukraine and Afghanistan, would they close them for other migrants desperate for safety and a better life?

Legal or otherwise, migrants are, first and foremost, human beings. Surely they are entitled to expect their universal rights to be upheld according to the Refugee Convention, which Britain has signed up to. There are other ways to address English Channel crossings, such as creating a transit centre in Calais, where people on the move could be assessed and those in need of protection, welcomed.

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Please listen to the plea of those who have made these perilous journeys. There are underlying factors that made them leave their homes – such as hunger, political instability, war and poverty.

Listen to the oppressed people of Rwanda and support the call of its people. Listen to the British people who want to welcome refugees, and the campaigners with policy ideas to truly protect vulnerable families.

I urge the government to scrap its plan to send vulnerable people to Rwanda, respect human rights and create humane and effective ways for refugees to seek to settle in the UK.

The writer is a Rwandan living in the UK

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