A week before the first workers arrived, workers were putting the finishing touches on a small wooden shed next to the hostel’s restaurant. “It will be a store, so they can buy everything they need here instead of going outside,” explained its managing director, Ismael Bakina. Two covered areas in the garden will serve as smoking areas, while the tent further on will become an interview room and playground.
There is an airport-style security check in front of the check-in desk, including a luggage scanner and security guards with metal detectors. They are polite, professional and thorough. “As you can see, we are ready for migrants even today,” Bakina told CNN just hours before the first round of anti-deportation lawsuits began last week in the UK. Legal cases against the policy have so far been unsuccessful and the first flight from the UK to Rwanda is scheduled to leave on Tuesday.
Whenever they arrive, two migrants will share each room with shared bathrooms and laundry facilities on each floor. They will also have two red carpet prayer rooms overlooking the Kigali hills, free Wi-Fi and computers to keep up with their court cases. The Rwandan authorities point to the relative privileges that migrants will have here compared to the situation in British detention centers.
“We want them to have safe and decent housing and also have a package that they will receive so that they can acquire the skills to get any education, maybe start a business,” Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolanda Makolo told CNN.
The UK says it will pay £120m ($145m) to Rwanda over the next five years to fund the programme. In addition, the UK has also pledged to pay for the processing and integration costs of each displaced person, covering the costs of legal advice, social workers, translators, accommodation, food and healthcare. According to a briefing to Parliament, the British government has said it expects these to be similar to the cost of obtaining asylum in the UK, which is around £12,000 per person.
The UK declined to disclose the cost of the flights it would charter to transport the deportees to Rwanda. The Home Office said in its latest annual report that it paid £8.6m in 2020 to charter 47 deportation flights carrying 883 people. While the cost of individual flights varied by destination, the figures mean that the Home Office spent an average of £183,000. per flight or £9,700 per person.
Since there are no limits on the number of migrants, thousands of migrants could potentially flood into Kigali during the first five years of the plan.
HRW has been monitoring and investigating the human rights situation in Rwanda for decades and has documented abuses ranging from “crackdowns on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture by the Rwandan authorities.”
The British plan has also drawn criticism from the only opposition party that ran against Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the latest election, Rwanda’s Green Democratic Party, who say the country cannot afford it. “Rwanda is the most populous country in Africa. Do you think it will be easy for Rwanda to help these people?” Jean-Claude Ntezimana, secretary general, told CNN.
Rwanda is almost ten times smaller than the UK, but has 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 unwanted migrants 4,000 miles to Rwanda. “When it is not the choice of the refugees, it is inhumane and illegal,” Ntezimana said.
The Rwandan government claims this is perfectly legal.
“This partnership does not violate any laws,” Makolo told CNN. “There is nothing in the Refugee Convention that would prevent asylum seekers from resettling in another safe country.”
Makolo admits that a similar program with Israel didn’t work and Rwanda abandoned it “very quickly.” But the deal with British migrants is completely different, she says, and will be successful. In fact, she said, Rwanda could soon accept migrants from Denmark as well, and negotiations were nearing completion.
More recently, Rwanda partnered with the UN refugee agency to host vulnerable asylum seekers evacuated from Libya. In the three years the program has been in operation, just over 1,000 migrants have passed through the Emergency Transportation Center in Gashor. Migrants stay an average of four to eight months before being resettled abroad, the center’s manager said. Migrants have three options: resettlement elsewhere, voluntary repatriation to their home country, or local integration into Rwandan society. According to Fares Ruyumbu, the camp manager, no one chose the latter two.
“You can’t compare this (Libya and Rwanda),” said Zemen Fesakha, 26, an Eritrean refugee at the Gashor transit center. He spent four years in what he says was terrible conditions in Libya, repeatedly but unsuccessfully trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. “It’s like going from hell to heaven.”
Although the 11 months he spent in Rwanda in 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 Jani, 26, from South Sudan, dreams of moving to Finland with her 18 months old son. “What I want is not here, it is there,” she said.