By Clement Uwiringiyimana
KIGALI - Asylum seekers sent from filthy, dangerous Libyan detention centres to Rwanda say their new quarters are a huge improvement but they still want to reach Europe - raising questions over the deterrent effect of Britain’s plan to transfer migrants to the east African country.
The first flight of asylum seekers from Britain is set to depart on Tuesday evening for Kigali, although only a handful of people may be aboard amid a flurry of last-minute legal challenges.
Britain said it plans to send anyone caught trying to enter the country illegally, a tough line it hopes will cut down on migration. But critics of the plan have raised questions over its cost and ethics. This year, war and climate disasters are expected to force a record number of people to flee their homes.
This is not the first time Rwanda has taken in asylum seekers from a third country.
Kigali, the African Union and the United Nations refugee agency agreed in 2019 that migrants held in squalid Libyan detention centres could be voluntarily evacuated to Rwanda on United Nations-operated flights.
Peter Nyuon was among them. He fled his native South Sudan after his father and grandfather were killed in fighting. Trying to reach Europe, he got stuck in a Libyan detention facility for a year before the United Nations took him to Rwanda’s Gashora camp.
Conditions are much better in Rwanda, Nyuon said, but he and many others migrants sent from Libya are set on getting to Europe.
“As long as I go to Europe...that’s my aim,” Nyuon said.
He has already seen several people get officially resettled from Gashora - more than 600 out of a total of 1 000, according to officials.
“I cannot live here forever. When I reach Europe or Canada I will study and work,” echoed Eritrean Teame Goitom. “I left Eritrea because there is a dictatorship. I want to go to Europe because there is freedom.”
The 10 asylum speakers who spoke to Reuters said they are awaiting official, legal resettlement.
The asylum seekers have no choice as to which country they could go to and Nyuon does not know where he might bound for.
People from Gashora have been resettled in Canada, Sweden, Norway, France, Finland and Belgium.
Israel attempted a similar migrant transfer program as Britain starting in 2014, sending mainly Sudanese and Eritreans asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. But most left soon after and headed north again, sometimes using smugglers, the International Refugee Rights Initiative found in 2015.
The United Nations said Britain’s decision to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda is “all wrong”. The Libyan deal was reasonable because it protected migrants from torture, sexual violence, and indefinite detention, officials said.
Britain was “exporting its responsibility to another country”, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said on Monday.
The first group of migrants from Britain will be sheltered close to the Rwandan capital at Hope Hostel, which can host 100 people.
The 50-room hostel is clean, newly renovated and the yellow-painted rooms until recently housed survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
“The migrants will be free. This is not a prison. It is like a home,” said Ismail Bakina, the building manager.