Home Opinion and Features UK, Rwanda deal on refugees shames the AU

UK, Rwanda deal on refugees shames the AU


The UN refugee agency has described the plan as being “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”.

Refugees camping outide the Pretoria office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees demanding repatriation. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

By Ido Lekota

LAST month during the 12th Thabo Mbeki Africa Day lecture held at Gallagher Estate a rather agitated former Unisa student made a public statement about how she was not willing to forgive “those who came before us for failing the African youth”.

She made her statement before asking a question as to what African leaders are doing to ensure that skilled African youths do not emigrate to Europe looking for greener pastures due to lack of opportunities in the continent. While I cannot recall the actual response from the panellists – it is safe to say her question was not satisfactorily answered.

What brings all this to my mind is the raging debate around the controversial deal whereby Rwanda is to host asylum seekers deported from Britain.

According to the agreement, all people crossing the border illegally into the UK – around 28 000 per year – will be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum applications will be processed from A to Z by Rwandan authorities. In return, the UK will pay Rwanda a substantial sum of R2 billion per year.

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo has described the plan as “an “innovative programme” to tackle “a broken global asylum system”. But Rwandan opposition parties have questioned whether the resettlement scheme will work, given high youth unemployment rates.

The British government has described the plan as “value for money” to reduce the long-term cost of irregular migration, which the government says costs UK taxpayers £1.5 billion a year, including £5 million a day on accommodation.

Last week Britain suffered an embarrassing blow when the first flight carrying the asylum seekers to Kigali was cancelled, thanks to a last-minute ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that at least one of the asylum seekers, an Iraqi man, should stay in Britain as there were no guarantees for his legal future in Rwanda.

The Strasbourg-based court said his expulsion should wait until British courts have taken a final decision on the legality of the policy, set for July.

Meanwhile, the deal has received massive criticism from the British opposition, the Church and global human rights groupings. There are even reports that Prince Charles had privately described the British government’s plan as “appalling.”

The two top clerics in the Church of England and 23 bishops have described it as “immoral” and “shames Britain”.

“We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard international law — which protects the right to claim asylum.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell wrote in a letter to The Times.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has described the plan as being “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”.

What is disconcerting is the African Union’s deafening silence on the matter. Here we have one of its member states involved in a deal described as being to “the letter of an international convention about refugees” and the AU remains impervious to the situation.

No wonder the declaration by the young woman during the Africa Day lecture about her lack of forgiveness for African leaders.

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