'We are not trading humans,' say Kagame on Rwanda's deal with UK over refugees

  • Rwandan President Paul Kagame says the deal with the UK is not human trade.
  • Kagame says his track record on refugees during his time as AU chair is why the UK approached him.
  • Denmark is also in talks with Rwanda for a similar asylum deal.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame says the UK approached him over the sending of refugees to his country as he had helped refugees during his time as African Union (AU) chairperson.

Speaking at a virtual seminar hosted by Brown University, a private Ivy League research university in the US, Kagame on Wednesday emphasised: "We are not trading humans beings, please. This is not the case. We are actually helping."

Last Thursday, the UK unveiled a plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

This, after an initial payment of R2.37 billion to the Rwanda government since it would take responsibility for the refugees.

READ | UK to send all illegal immigrants to Rwanda in move slammed as a 'cash for people' scheme

Rights groups described the move as "cruel" and "callous", and wondered why Rwanda was accepting the possible deal when Ghana and Kenya rejected similar offers in the past.

But Kagame said he was for the idea because in the past he had helped with the rehabilitation of African refugees trying to cross into Europe from Libya.

Paul Kagame.
Getty Images

"To understand this problem better we have to go a little bit into the history," he said.

"This problem of dealing with immigrants does not start with what we arrived at as the deal between UK and Rwanda."

"But let me talk about 2018 when we helped to deal with the situation in Libya. These people (refugees) were stuck in Libya trying to cross into Europe. Some had already died trying to cross into the Mediterranean, others were kept in prisons in Libya," he said.

At the time, Kagame was the AU chairperson, and faced with the matter, he said that he had said to himself: "Well, we are not a rich country, we're not a big country, but there are solutions. We can always help."

He had engaged international organisations such as the UN and bigger economies and suggested, "Why don't you actually bring these people to Rwanda?"

Kagame said it was because of this history that Rwanda was approached.

But the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) argued that the deal was, "unlawful, inhumane, unworkable, expensive, based on false premises, an attempt to distract from political challenges".

ECRE also said the deal would face legal challenges, and what's worrying was that "victims of modern slavery and human trafficking will not be exempted; it can be deduced that other vulnerable persons will not be exempt".

While there's the deal with the UK on the table, Reuters reported that Denmark too was having talks with Rwanda over the possibility of a similar facility.

As of September last year, according to UN figures, Rwanda hosted 127 163 refugees and asylum seekers, of whom 49% were children and 51% females.

Some 90% lived in camps.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation

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