Rwanda and the United Kingdom on Thursday signed a migration deal that will see asylum seekers who arrive illegally in the UK on small boats, across the English Channel, given a one-way ticket to Kigali to wait out their applications.
UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is in Kigali, signed the “Rwanda-UK Migration and Economic Development Partnership” with Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta.
Under the program that involves a UK supportive funding, the UK will invest in Rwanda’s economic development with €120 million ($157 million) to support the needs of the asylum seekers, although critics say the cost of the program will be much higher.
Rwandan officials say migrants will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services as well as the issuance of necessary identification documents.
The deal comes as the UK seeks to curb an increasing number of illegal immigrants.
In 2021, the known number of people who crossed the English Channel in small boats increased to 28,526 people from 8,404 in 2020.
Around 600 people made the crossing on Wednesday, a day before the signing of the deal in Kigali.
In June last year, the UK introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill that would introduce longer maximum sentences for those entering the UK without a legal reason in the hope that the rules would deter migrants from crossing the English Channel.
The deal was welcomed by heavy criticism by human rights and opposition leaders in Rwanda and the UK, with some questioning the legality of the deal citing Kigali’s record of human rights violations.
At the UN last year, the UK demanded investigations into alleged killings, disappearances, and torture that were allegedly carried out by Rwanda. The government of Rwanda has consistently and vehemently denied the allegations.
“Rwanda produces refugees too. These include Rwandan people who sought political and economic asylum in other countries. Such condition does not in fact guarantee long-term security in Rwanda and in the region of the Great Lakes region…” said a statement by DALFA Umurinzi, a political opposition party.
The party is founded by Victoire Ingabire, an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government.
“It is important [that] the Rwandan government focuses on solving its political and social internal issues that make its citizens seek refuge in other countries before it offers to host migrants from other countries,” the party added.