A week before the first arrivals were due, workers were putting the finishing touches to a small wooden shed next to the hostel’s restaurant. “This will be a store so they can buy everything they need here instead of going out,” explained its CEO, Ismael Bakina. Two covered areas in the gardens will serve as smoking areas and a more distant tent will also serve as an interview room and play area.
There is an airport-style security check-in before reception, which includes a baggage scanner and guards with metal detectors. They are kind, professional and conscientious. “As you can see, we are ready for migrants, even today,” Bakina says, speaking to CNN just hours before the first round of legal appeals against deportation was launched in the UK last week. The lawsuits against the policy have so far been unsuccessful and the first flight from the UK to Rwanda is expected to take off on Tuesday.
Upon arrival, two migrants will share each room, with shared bathrooms and laundry areas on each floor. They will also have two red carpeted prayer areas overlooking the Kigali Hills, free Wi-Fi, and computers to keep up with their lawsuits. The Rwandan authorities underline the relative privilege that migrants will have here, compared to what is provided in British detention facilities.
“We want them to have safe and decent housing, and there is also a package they will receive so that they can acquire skills to get an education, maybe start a business,” Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told CNN.
The UK says it will pay Rwanda 120 million pounds ($ 145 million) over the next five years to fund the program. In addition, the UK has also promised to pay the processing and integration costs for each relocated person, covering the costs of legal advice, social workers, translators, accommodation, food and healthcare. According to a parliamentary research briefing, the UK government said it expects these to be similar to the UK asylum processing costs, which stand at around £ 12,000 per person.
The UK has refused to disclose the cost of the flights it will charter to transport the deportees to Rwanda. The Interior Ministry said in its latest annual report that it had paid £ 8.6 million to charter 47 deportation flights carrying 883 people in 2020. Although the cost of individual flights varied by destination, figures indicate that on average, the Ministry of the Interior spent £ 183,000 per flight or £ 9,700 per person.
As there is no limit to the number of migrants, thousands of migrants could potentially pour into Kigali within the first five years of the plan.
HRW has been monitoring and investigating human rights conditions in Rwanda for decades and has documented abuses ranging from “suppression of free speech, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture by the Rwandan authorities”.
The UK’s plan has also drawn criticism from the only opposition party that ran against Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the latest election, the Green Democratic Party of Rwanda, which says the country cannot afford it. “Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Do you think it will be easy for Rwanda to help these people?” Jean Claude Ntezimana, the general secretary told CNN.
Rwanda is nearly a tenth the size of the UK, but is home to nearly 13 million people, nearly a fifth of the UK’s population.
The Green Party accuses the UK of violating its international obligations by sending its unwanted migrants 4,000 miles away to Rwanda. “When it’s not the choice of refugees, it’s inhumane and illegal,” Ntezimana said.
The Rwandan government claims it is perfectly legal.
“There are no laws violated with this partnership,” Makolo told CNN. “There is nothing in the Refugee Convention that prevents asylum seekers from being relocated to another safe country.”
Makolo admits that a similar program with Israel did not work and Rwanda ditched it “very quickly”. But, he says, the UK migrant deal is totally different and will be successful. Indeed, he said, Rwanda may soon accept migrants from Denmark as well, with negotiations nearing completion.
More recently, Rwanda partnered with the UN refugee agency to accommodate vulnerable asylum seekers evacuated from Libya. Just over 1,000 migrants have passed through the Gashora Emergency Transit Center in the three years of the program. Migrants stay between four and eight months on average before being resettled abroad, according to the director of the center. Migrants have three choices: resettlement elsewhere, voluntary repatriation to their country of origin or local integration into Rwandan society. No one chose the latter two, according to Fares Ruyumbu, the manager of the pitch.
“You can’t compare (Libya and Rwanda),” said Zemen Fesaha, 26, to an Eritrean refugee at the Gashora transit center. He spent four years in what he described as horrendous conditions in Libya as he repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. “It’s like going from hell to heaven”.
Although the 11 months he spent in Rwanda at the camp were safer and easier, he is determined to leave.
And Zemen is not alone in this. None of the refugees at the emergency center that CNN spoke to wanted to stay in Rwanda.
Nyalada Gatluak Jany, 26, from South Sudan, dreams of moving to Finland with her 1 and a half year old son. “What I want isn’t here, it’s there,” she said.