Rwanda confirmed on Wednesday that it would remain “fully committed” to its “partnership” with London despite the cancellation of the first flight that was supposed to bring illegal immigrants expelled from the UK to Kigali the day before, due to legal appeals.
Over 6000 kilometers away, the words were the same. “We are not discouraged by these developments,” Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande McCullough said Wednesday morning, echoing the phrase used by British Home Secretary Priti Patel in a statement hours earlier.
“Rwanda remains fully committed to making this partnership a success,” she said, noting that the East African country “is ready to welcome migrants upon their arrival and provide them with safety and opportunities.”
The first flight under the controversial agreement was scheduled to take off from Britain on Tuesday evening, before it was canceled at the last minute after a decision by the European Court of Human Rights.
This project has for weeks been the subject of fierce criticism, particularly from the UN refugee agency and human rights organizations, but also from Anglican church leaders who have been described as “immoral”.
The Kigali government, often accused of human rights abuses, strongly rejects criticism that Rwanda is not a safe country for migrants.
“We do not consider living in Rwanda as a punishment,” she said, noting that the country of about 13 million people already hosts more than 130,000 refugees from various countries.
– “Chance” –
The agreement, which will be funded by the UK in the amount of 120 million pounds (140 million euros), is also for some observers a way for Rwanda to avoid criticism of its human rights record, rights and freedom of expression.
On the streets of the Rwandan capital, Kigali, people on Wednesday questioned the future of this project, which some see as an “opportunity”.
“We have already helped other people,” said student Zivani. “I heard the foreign minister say that money will be given to Rwanda to welcome these refugees and that they have skills they can share with the Rwandans. C is an opportunity for us.” Mgaponzyma.
For Emmanuel Hakizimana, “The fact that these migrants do not arrive is a loss for the country and the population.” This businessman believes that their coming “would have been beneficial to us and we were working together”.
The manager of the Hope Hostel, where asylum seekers were to be accommodated upon their arrival, declined to comment on the flight cancellation.
Other residents, such as barber Eric Dany Manzi, fear that Rwanda’s reputation will be damaged by the confusion of recent days.
“Getting news like this about this cancellation at the last minute gives us a bad image. Now we are at a loss because we will not be able to provide the services we had to provide,” he said.
The non-governmental organization Amnesty International has welcomed these recent events.
“The British government’s attempts to undermine the entire international refugee protection system by shifting responsibility to Rwanda have been thwarted,” Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East Africa, wrote on Twitter.
For her, “the power of the people backed by the court was stronger than those of authority.”