KIGALI, Rwanda ( Associated Press) — As Britain plans to send its first group of asylum seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday, amid outcry and legal challenges, some who arrived in this East African country under earlier arrangements, tells The Associated Press that new arrivals can expect tough times ahead.
“Sometimes I play football and in the evening I drink because I have nothing to do,” said Faisal, 20, from Ethiopia. United Nations. “I pray to God everyday that I leave this place.”
Giving only his first name for fear of reprisal, he lives in the Gashora Center built to house refugees who were left in Libya while trying to reach Europe. Gashora is called a transit centre, but some people like Faisal go nowhere.
A British court on Monday refused to restrain the government from deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, arguing by rights advocates that the planned flights would undermine the “basic dignity” of survivors of war and persecution. The UK government-in-exile plan has been widely criticized, including by Prince Charles, according to newspaper reports.
Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and one of the least developed countries, despite the country’s focus on modernization since the 1994 genocide. Migrants looking for a better life in Britain are expected to have fewer chances to pursue their dreams here, even as Rwandan officials tell their country a proud history of welcoming those in need .
One of those who have found their way is Urubel Tesfaye, a 22-year-old from Ethiopia who is glad she found a part-time job at a bakery in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. But his friends talk about moving to Canada or the Netherlands.
“They have a disease in their head and they can’t settle here,” he said of his determination to relocate.
According to the UN refugee agency, hundreds of people previously deported to Rwanda have been resettled in third countries under agreements with the United Nations. But under the agreement with Britain, people deported to Rwanda will have to apply for asylum in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame told diplomats in Kigali after the deal was signed with Britain in April that his country and the UK were not involved in buying and selling people, but trying to solve a global migration problem .
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said at the time that “access to the UK asylum system should be based on need, not people’s ability to pay traffickers.”
Rwandan officials have said the agreement will initially last for five years, with the British government paying 120 million pounds ($158 million) to pay for housing and integrating asylum seekers. Rwanda accepts more migrants, so the UK is expected to pay more, although the exact number of people the UK sends is not known.
Under Rwanda’s new agreement with the UK, people arriving will be placed in shelters around Kigali with amenities such as private rooms, TVs and a swimming pool. Once at Hope Hostel, a security guard patrols outside, and clocks in the lobby show the time in London and Paris.
“It’s not a prison,” said manager Bakinahe Ismail.
But for past arrivals in a rural area outside the capital, the Gashora Center offers more basic shared living facilities instead.
“UK Government, my message to them is that humans are human. You can’t tell them ‘go and stay here’ or ‘go and do this or do that.’ No, because if they feel better in the UK, the UK is better for them,” said Peter Nyuoni, a refugee from South Sudan.
“There’s nothing for me to live here,” he said.
Even those who came directly to Rwanda to avoid troubles at home say the country is not easy despite being peaceful.
“When you’re not employed, you can’t survive here,” said Kelly Nimubona, a refugee from neighboring Burundi. “We cannot afford to eat twice a day. No chance of getting a job or doing street vending. But he described Rwanda as an oasis of order in the region.
Sensitivity about the arrival of asylum seekers before Britain is so high that Rwandan officials are blocking the media from interviewing the new arrivals.
“Maybe later when they settle down,” said Claude Twishim, a spokesman for the Ministry of Emergency Management, who will take charge of their care.
The government has said that Rwanda is already home to more than 130,000 refugees and migrants from other African countries and countries such as Pakistan.
The possibility of overtaking is criticized by some in Rwanda. Leader of the Opposition Victoire Ingabire has said the government should instead focus on the internal political and social issues that prompt some Rwandans to become refugees elsewhere.
For years, human rights groups have accused Rwanda’s government of cracking down on perceived dissent and keeping tight controls on many aspects of life, from jailing critics to keeping homeless people off the streets of Kigali. The government denies this.
Such tensions are expected to surface beneath the surface this month when Rwanda hosts a summit of Commonwealth heads of government. Britain will be central there as it faces questions about its deal with Rwanda.
Some Rwandans said the local economy was unprepared to handle people coming from Britain.
“Look, there’s a lot of people out here unemployed,” said Rashid Rutzigwa, a mechanic in the capital. He said he didn’t see many opportunities even for people with skills and training.
“But if the government promises to pay salaries to (migrants), it will be fine,” he said.
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