The migration agreement between Rwanda and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), seems to have brought out many who disagree with it, to line up behind Rwanda’s detractors, and amplify the anti Rwanda narrative, as a place no asylum seeker should be sent. What has been missing in all the claims however, is the truth. It is therefore worth comparing what awaits any migrant sent to Rwanda, with their life in the UK.
To compare Rwanda and the UK is admittedly, in many ways to compare apples and pears. One is among the richest, most influential, and advanced nations in the world, the other, one of the poorest and among the least advanced. The UK is also of course, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), a select group whose decisions can mean life or death for much of the rest of humanity, as Rwandans know only too well.
Migrants seeking a better life from the one they leave behind, are attracted to the UK, because it is a rich, highly advanced nation. As a poor, less advanced nation, Rwanda is not going to capture the imagination as a country like the UK does, however attractive in its own right it might be.
These are all self evident truths, but not apparently, sufficiently compelling for those who oppose the agreement. Instead, those among them who have appointed themselves experts on Rwanda, compete with each other, on who can manufacture the worst possible image of the country, then brandish the fruit of their imagination as though it were the reality, and declare that no one should be subjected to have to live in such a place.
An opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper, suggests that anyone sent to Rwanda, “will be vulnerable to falciparum malaria and won’t receive help.” We are informed that this little known variant of Malaria, is prevalent in East Africa, and is especially dangerous to foreigners, who unlike the locals, will not have developed any immunity to it.
It is however, never explained why, if they contracted it, these foreigners would not receive help, nor are we left any the wiser as to why up until now the many foreigners in the region, have not been dropping like flies, felled by the dreaded falciparum malaria, which it must be owned, does indeed sound suitably scary.
Rwanda’s effectiveness in treating and combating Malaria, is universally acknowledged, including by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as outstanding. And unless the falciparum mosquito, also hypnotises healthcare professionals to disregard their Hippocratic oath, not to say their humanity, it is otherwise not clear why they would not help anyone who presented with this, or any other kind of medical complaint.
Just as we are contemplating these questions, we have the heavyweight intervention, from Lord Richard Dannatt. Lord Dannatt is a retired soldier turned parliamentarian, and not just any soldier. As General Dannatt, he was Britain’s Chief of the General Staff. Now as a member of the upper chamber of parliament, his voice still carries weight.
Concerned that the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, was in danger of “running down political capital” of a government he supports, by promoting a policy he regards as unpopular, the General’s intervention seems to have been intended to outflank the Home Secretary, with Rwanda, as just collateral damage.
“I have been to Rwanda” he declared, “and the shadow of genocide in the 1990s, hangs over that country.” Rwanda, he continued, has a “pretty dark history, and it’s not the sort of environment I would put people from Syria and elsewhere in the world into.”
As many others, Lord Dannatt, is of course, perfectly entitled to disagree with the policy, which he says makes him “uncomfortable.” It is however entirely disingenuous to pretend that his discomfort with it, has any bearing on what Rwanda may or may not be. We do not know for instance, on what basis he judges the country to be “under the shadow of genocide.” As for the “dark history,” by that measure, there would be no country to which migrants could be sent.
Would the General consider Germany a suitable place, for instance, some of that country’s history could not be any darker. Is Germany also “under the shadow of genocide”? Should the migrants be sent to America, Canada or Australia? All three countries are yet to come to terms with the genocides against their indigenous peoples. Do they labour “under the shadow of genocide.”
In what is now Australia, entire peoples were wiped out by the British colonisers, who considered their victims barely human, and that racism is continued to this day, by the ancestors of those first colonisers. One could go on. Canada, America, New Zealand, the story is similar or the same. Does the “shadow of genocide” hang over them, or does the “dark history” make them an environment into which migrants should not be put?
In the Times of London, Brian Latham, claims that Rwanda is so unremittingly dreadful, that Rwandan refugees in Zimbabwe, a country he says has no respect for human rights, would rather stay there than return to their homeland.
He wonders why the British government does not stand alongside him, singing anti Rwanda litanies, from the same hymn sheet. Apparently oblivious to the obvious irony, given his own article, he suggests the answer might be “because Zimbabwe gets unrelenting bad press and Rwanda doesn’t.” As if proof were needed that Latham has as much understanding of Rwanda, as the average camel knows about rain forests, he fails to understand that his own ill informed hatchet job on Rwanda, is just one among many.
It comes as no surprise, then that he goes on to regurgitate the familiar anti Rwanda narrative to his readers, as though he were delivering original information. “Rwanda is not a Democracy” Latham informs, and President Kagame, apparently commits “egregious” acts against his own citizens and his neighbour Congo.
And in case you are wondering, no, we are not told what these “egregious acts” are, a practice having been long established that allegations against Rwanda, require no evidence. They are simply made and are to be accepted as fact, because they are made.
“Think about it:” he goes on, as though possessed of the most astounding information, “in the shabby, old Tongogara Refugee Camp, hundreds of Rwandans live a miserable, hardscrabble existence but are afraid to leave. They fled during the nineties. If Rwanda isn’t safe for its own refugees, by what measure is it safe for people who have fled war and persecution to seek asylum in Britain?
We are given a laundry list of why no one should be sent to Rwanda. The country does not even have enough electricity for all its people, not everyone in the country has piped water…Rusesabagina was “kidnapped in Dubai…Hollywood…” Rwanda is a “little country that jails people for criticising the President…Rwanda is unsafe…” and on and on it goes unremittingly, inaccurately, and utterly fatuously.
Let us look how the apples stack up against the pears. Rwanda never claimed to be anything other than a poor nation. In fact, it would be fair to call it a nation in the making. It is worth pointing out that as a modern state, Rwanda is little more than two decades old.
Everything has had to be remade, is being remade, following the Genocide Against the Tutsi, that culminated in 1994. Twenty years to remake everything that a modern state needs, and twenty years to revive the foundational values of an ancient nation of a unified people, riven asunder by colonial intent to dehumanise, destroy, divide and rule.
It is on the basis of these ancient values that a comparison with the UK can be made. For when it comes to values, Rwanda has a strong claim to be a leading nation. It is in fact, on the basis of these values that the country entered into the migration agreement in the first place, offering to play its part, in according migrants their due dignity as human beings.
Britain has much to offer any asylum seeker. It is also however true to say that few are benefitting from all that the country can or could offer. Provisions, including decent accommodation have to be found for more than 140,000 migrants, sent by people traffickers. Most arrive in small dinghies, crossing the English Channel, that separates France and the UK.
It is a perilous journey. The Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world, and its waters can be treacherous. In 2021, the almost expected tragedy struck, when twenty-seven migrants, trying to cross from France to the UK, drowned. More however, continue to arrive, and the conditions in which they are housed leave a great deal to be desired to say the least.
Many, tens of thousands, are housed in hotels as temporary accommodation, while their cases are heard, and more permanent housing is being found. But perhaps the word hotel is a little misleading. The migrants are crowded in single rooms, where it is not unheard of for a family of five to spend over a year, living in one room.
A report commissioned by the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), Refugee Action, interviewed migrants in several English cities, and found living conditions that were uninhabitable, people with no accommodation at all, sleeping rough, and unsurprisingly, increased cases of deterioration in their mental health.
In some cases, people complained of accommodation so poor and overcrowded, it was rodent and pest infested. Some succumbed to diphtheria because of the overcrowding. Food was said to be so inadequate, some mothers of young children, were too malnourished to breastfeed. In one case, a poorly maintained ceiling collapsed and just missed a mother and child, who had to be taken to hospital.
Added to all this, is harassment based on racial bigotry. In some places, right wing bigots demonstrate and intimidate migrants accommodated in their towns.
It would however be too easy to see through all this a Britain that is irredeemably dehumanising. The reality is that while the picture does accurately represent the awful experiences of some migrants, it also remains true that Britain is a nation of laws, where there is for instance little danger to the migrants from the hostile demonstrations, because the authorities would step in to keep order, and arrest anyone who threatened any harm to them. It is a country where those migrants who are accepted, will thrive in an environment that only a highly advanced nation can provide.
This in part explains why, in spite of the undoubted hostility, migrants continue to want to enter Britain. It is why it would be well nigh impossible to find any of them who would choose Rwanda over Britain, however welcoming Rwanda would be, and unwelcoming Britain is. The migrants do not seek only safety, they also hope to access opportunities only a highly advanced nation like Britain can offer them.
Were the commentators interested in the truth, they would separate their dislike of the migration agreement, from any question of Rwanda’s suitability as a place for vulnerable people seeking refuge. Even with its limited resources, Rwanda would be a healing place, for anyone in need of such an environment.
What Latham deliberately ignores, or is too ill informed to note, is that in a mere two decades, Rwanda has been reconstructed, to become, in every way, one of the most promising nations on the African continent. It is by any dispassionate judgement an inspirational story of the triumph of the human spirit, over those forces of darkness about which Lord Dannatt speaks.
Far from being “under the shadow of genocide” as Dannatt opines, Rwanda illuminates the way to how human hearts can emerge out of unimaginable inhumanity, inhumanity it should be remembered, that was seeded into venal Rwandan minds and hearts, by colonialists who touted human values, the same values the likes of Latham now presume to preach to Rwanda.
Yes, not all Rwandans have piped water, or electricity. But what Latham will not say, is that in the two extraordinary decades, for the first time in their lives, all Rwandans have access to clean drinking water, and the majority now have electricity, with the aim to reach all the others in the not too distant future, resources allowing.
If they ever arrive in Rwanda, migrants will be warmly welcomed into an environment that places humanity above all else. They will be properly housed, signed up to universal healthcare, where any falciparum malaria is easily treated, a place where they and their families can thrive, a place where they are reminded what it is to be valued as a human being.
As for Rwanda not being a Democracy, arguably, no nation on earth is, however much many may claim to be. It is indeed true to say that many Western nations do have democratic rights, but they are often oligarchies with democratic practices, not democracies. Rwanda is a democratising state, where the law guarantees anyone to demand their democratic rights. It certainly is limited, it is a nation in the making, but it is a democratising state. The cliched fatuities of “dictatorship” “autocracy” or even “police state” directed at the country by its detractors, are exactly that, cliched fatuities. It could be argued that in those two short decades, Rwanda has democratised faster than any Western ever nation did, and they are still democratising.
And it is just as well for Latham that his life does not depend on identifying one, just one example of anyone in Rwanda, who was “jailed for criticising the head of state,” or else he would be guaranteed a starring role in a Times obituary. He might also like to learn that since the defeat of the genocidal establishment by the Rwanda Patriotic Front Forces (RPF), in 1994, no Rwandan has reason to be a refugee from his or her homeland. Those who claim to be, do so because they seek opportunities elsewhere, are fugitives from justice.
There are valid, principled objections to the UK-Rwanda migration agreement, none of them however, are because Rwanda is not a safe, or indeed attractive country for the migrants. To pretend otherwise, is not only inaccurate, an injustice to Rwanda, it is dishonorable and discreditable.