Out now from The Monkey Cage: Rachel Beatty Riedl, Eleanor Paynter, and Christa Kuntzelman write "The UK Wants to Send Refugees to Rwanda. That's Become a Trend." Ami Tamakloe reads this article for a bonus episode about how a new United Kingdom program will endanger migrants, not protect them.
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Ami Tamakloe 0:00
Hello, listeners and followers of Ufahamu Africa and The Monkey Cage.
My name is Ami Tamakloe, an anthropol-artist working with the Ufahamu Africa team.
Welcome to another segment from the African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular! A series of new books that speak to politics in Africa. My name is Ami Tamakloe, an AnthropolArtist at Cornell University working with the Ufahamu Africa team. Remember you can always read these reviews on the Monkey Cage’s website. And for our first time listeners, The Monkey Cage is a blog on everything politics and political science at The Washington Post. Thank you again for tuning in, now let's talk politics.
With global attention focused on the plight of people fleeing Ukraine, the U.K. government has announced a new pay-for-processing program with Rwanda. The policy would further close already heavily restricted U.K. borders by allowing British officials to target people arriving via the English Channel and send some of them 4,000 miles away.
It is a response to ongoing debates in a post-Brexit context about how to stem arrivals to British shores — and, ultimately, how to limit who obtains asylum in the United Kingdom.
The agreement’s official end goal is that U.K.-bound asylum seekers would voluntarily resettle in Rwanda, some developing country or return to their home countries. Rwanda has a relatively integrative policy toward social inclusion, public services and economic opportunities. However, Rwanda is still a country with issues around human rights and this might affect asylum seekers’ access to certain freedoms.
‘Outsourcing’ is a growing trend
The agreement exemplifies a trend across Western nations. By excluding asylum seekers in the name of rescue and security, countries shift those apprehended at their borders to nations in the Global South. This approach is controversial — and, according to U.N. officials, raises legal questions. In violating international agreements and humanitarian principles about the right to claim asylum, the policy also suggests those seeking safety deserve no say in their destination.
A number of policies and practices threaten asylum seekers’ rights in Europe and other Western countries. Since 2017, an agreement between Italy and Libya returns individuals crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Libyan detention centers. Since December 2013, Israel deported more than 4,000 Sudanese and Eritrean nationals to Uganda and Rwanda.
No longer able to return certain asylum seekers to E.U. countries following Brexit, the U.K. has sought to criminalize precarious migration and outsource asylum processing and detention. U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel has consulted Australian leaders who implemented a rigorous offshore detention policy. The U.K. plan also resembles a 2021 agreement between Denmark and Rwanda.
The U.K. plan reinforces old stereotypes
The U.K. announcement perpetuates the criminalization of migrants — racializes and genders asylum seeking. In his speech introducing the agreement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested men are “paying people smugglers to queue jump and [they are] taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees.” This unfounded claim implies that the policy would target single men and send them on to Rwanda, a country the U.K. government called “one of the world’s safest nations.”
In addition to violating asylum seekers’ rights, this approach would bolster a culture of suspicion among U.K. citizens that non-White migrants, especially men, represent a threat. Although officials have yet to hear the asylum claims of those crossing, Johnson reiterated popular discourse that presumes single men are “economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system.” Johnson’s assertion suggests that these migrants are undeserving of U.K. protection or even the possibility of entering into the U.K. while their asylum petitions are pending.
Similar rhetoric in Europe shaped racist, xenophobic border policy since its so called “refugee crisis” garnered global attention in 2015. One irony of this rhetoric is how few refugees are actually hosted in European vs. African nations. For example, Rwanda hosts a slightly larger number of refugees than the U.K does.
So What is Rwanda’s track record?
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has praised Rwanda for adopting “among the most progressive policies worldwide to support refugee self-reliance” and creating an “enabling environment” that offers refugees rights to free movement and to work — rights that can be rare globally. But in practice, research suggests most refugees fail to obtain these rights.
Many of the displaced remain dependent on humanitarian aid, which often falls short. UNHCR’s annual budget for Rwanda refugee operations is only 11 percent funded, for instance. This figure doesn’t factor in the needs of additional asylum seekers the U.K. would send.
The U.K. government proposes to pay Rwanda nearly $160 million to help defray the costs of taking in additional refugees. But evidence from Australia suggests that outsourcing asylum processing, costs significantly more than projected. The funds from the U.K. will probably not suffice.
Like refugee populations globally, those hosted in Rwanda are not immune discriminatory experiences. These risks are higher for women, girls, unaccompanied youths, LGBTQI individuals and people with disabilities. In an extreme example in 2018, Rwandan police killed 11 Congolese refugees who demonstrated against reductions to food aid.
Well-documented rights repression in Rwanda raises fundamental questions about the U.K.’s plan. In addition, if refugees don’t have the ability to integrate within Rwanda, there’s a heightened risk that Rwanda will become a transit rather than a destination country. This suggests the U.K. proposal wouldn’t actually deter unsafe migration, but instead risk prompting people to undertake repeated and increasingly unsafe journeys.
The ‘Anywhere but here’ policies are dangerous
Policies that delay or prohibit migrants from filing asylum claims put people on the move at greater risk and can lead to border deaths. By relocating those the U.K. marks as “threatening” or “illegal,” the U.K. government underscores that Rwanda and other countries in the Global South are the legitimate places for “undesirable” non-European, non-White, and/or non-Christian migrants. An epithet of western imperialism.
In Rwanda, according to Johnson, those granted refugee status will have “the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country, supported by the funding we are giving them.” Ignoring that many head to the U.K. hoping to reach family, friends and specific opportunities there, this agreement with Rwanda suggests asylum seekers deserve no agency in choosing where they settle.
If the U.K.-Rwanda agreement follows the trend of other European outsourcing efforts, it won’t guarantee safety and rights as promised. It will, instead, legitimize anti-immigrant racism within the U.K., while leaving those seeking protection in continued precarity. It is rather a shame that the UK and other ‘western’ countries in times of crisis will defer responsibility and take away agency and by extension aid from those who need it. It will be interesting to know who, according to countries like the UK, is seen as worthy of asylum and who is not and therefore outsourced. With its problems and all, hats off to Rwanda and other global south countries who are at least allowing refugees space within their countries, even if it is temporary.
Thank you for listening, we hope you enjoyed this review. Remember you can access these reviews on the Monkey Cages website and do not forget to follow the Ufahamu podcast and the monkey cage on social media. I am Ami Tamakloe and have a fantastic rest of your day.