Rwanda’s Migration Deal With the U.K. Is a PR Move

Rwanda’s Migration Deal With the U.K. Is a PR Move
Rwandan President Paul Kagame speaks in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 11, 2020 (AP photo by John Muchucha).

The government of Rwanda announced earlier this month what it described as a “migration and economic development partnership” with the United Kingdom, in which the U.K. claims it would send migrants who had reached British territory to Rwanda for processing of their asylum claims for possible settlement in the U.K. But in practical terms, the asylum seekers will be transported to Rwanda permanently. Almost immediately after the agreement was announced, it came under fire, with critics calling London’s role in it a legally dubious violation of international humanitarian norms that treats human beings like commodities, all to help the U.K. “outsource its refugee problems.”

But while much of the commentary has justifiably focused on the U.K.’s incentives for proposing the partnership, scant attention has been paid to Kigali’s motivations for agreeing to it. A good place to start is Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s desire to bolster the country’s international image and rebut criticism of his human rights record, while also strengthening ties with the Anglophone world.

While specific details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, under the five-year deal, the U.K. will send some asylum-seekers arriving via the English Channel to the East African country, where, if their claims are rejected, they would be offered the choice between voluntarily resettling or returning to their home countries. The U.K. government has earmarked an up-front payment to Rwanda of £120 million, or approximately $160 million, and will reportedly pick up the operational costs of the program. Kagame pushed back at criticism of the agreement during remarks he made at a virtual seminar hosted last week by Brown University’s Watson Institute, saying that his government’s choice to partner with the U.K. to resettle asylum-seekers was “an innovation that Rwanda put forth to deal with this migration issue.” In announcing the deal, the government said it “reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protecting vulnerable people, a principle which always governs the international policy of our government.” And in a joint press conference in Kigali alongside Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, British Home Secretary Priti Patel praised the East African country as possessing “one of the strongest records of refugee resettlement.” Both Kagame and Biruta have alluded to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and the considerable toll the tragedy took on the country’s population, including massive emigration of Rwandans abroad, as one reason they agreed to the partnership with London.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to WPR’s fully searchable library of 16,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news and analysis from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • The Weekly Wrap-Up email, with highlights of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review