UK, Rwanda Migration deal leaves everyone “No longer at ease”.

It is common practice; when European courts examine extradition cases, the debate centers around the conditions in the country where the asylum-seeker is likely to be sent. In the case of Rwanda, the UK government assures everyone that the place is a holiday resort, while NGOs insist Rwanda is hell on earth!

Migrants too do not want to come to Rwanda, as they should! That wasn’t their initial plan, I mean, if they wanted to travel to Rwanda, they’d travel to Rwanda. Admittedly we are a small country, but not too small to not appear on a map. It is not like they do not know where it is. The country has a popular airline, Rwandair, and a visa-on-arrival policy for all! There are even banners on television and in stadiums across Europe reminding them every weekend to: Visit Rwanda!

With that in mind, they wouldn’t have collected the little extended family’s possessions to set off for the unknown, be kidnapped by Bedouin passers in the Sinai desert or tribal warlords in Libya, who blackmailed their people back home into selling the family plot and livestock to pay the ransom, once released, sail cross the Mediterranean on ramshackle canoes, be rescued and detained on some European island, escape, hitchhike across Europe, cross the Chanel clandestinely, risk their lives countless times, only to be detained in the UK, then shipped back to Africa.

In my past life, I used to work for a UN Special Rapporteur and my job was to interview asylum seekers. Emigrating to Europe isn’t an individual endeavor, it is a collective, family project. Those who finally make it and get papers overseas, have entire communities counting on them.

All these years, Western media has worked so hard to convince people that Africa is hell and Europe is heaven, and we finally believed them! Being shipped to Rwanda, a tiny country in Africa, would be perceived as a failure back in the village. “We know Rwandans, they too used to be refugees here, twenty or so years ago… Nwa anyị adala any!’ Our son has failed us! Adds Isaac Okonkwo, Obi’s father, in Igbo, as he rolls his goad skin and departs the village of Umuofia, leaving behind debts and shame…” -Chinua Achebe, “No longer at ease”.

However, the UK doesn’t want any more Black or Arab people. All migrants of darker skin complexion who got caught without papers have been living in detention in the UK. Which poses a basic ideological question! Namely, the moral standing, in 2024, of a rich country with a colonial background, whose wealth was built on the loot from black and brown people’s land, which is now rejecting its own, members of the “Commonwealth”, subjects of his majesty King Charles the III, of Great Britain.

That is the fundamental question. However, even their own Supreme Court, House of Lords or media avoided it, because it leads to only one inevitable conclusion; one that the Great British people, high on their horses, cannot live with, and Rwanda is right there, holding a huge mirror in their face; a tiny, poor, post-conflict country at the heart of Africa is willing to offer a haven to people who are mistreated in the country that relentlessly purports to teach moral values to the world. It is a counter-intuitive paradigm shift.

To Western journalists I spoke to, all wanting to know how Rwandans “reacted to the UK’s decision.” I failed to impress on any of them that the issue has nothing to do with Rwanda, it is a British debate. Rwandans didn’t “react”. The country is led by former refugees and Rwandans are used to receiving refugees all the time.

While discussions about asylum seekers are hot political issues in the West, most African refugees are housed in Africa, and indeed the genesis of the UK-Rwanda migration deal dates back to 2018 when President Kagame chaired the African Union and was faced with the question of African migrants stuck in warthorn Libya being treated like slaves. “Bring them all to Rwanda”, he said. Informed of this, several western countries made a similar request.

However, as the Americans were departing Afghanistan, an all women school in Kabul was being threatened by the imminent arrival of Talibans. “Could you please ask that women champion from Africa to give us sanctuary”? the woman rector of the school pleaded with the Americans. Of course his answer was yes, and the entire afghani school was airlifted to Kigali within hours of the Taliban closing in.

With the latest iteration of the Sudan war, two Sudanese medical schools have relocated to Kigali and immediately enrolled in the National University of Rwanda. Still the sky hasn’t fallen on our heads..

Western media and NGOs preferred to talk about conditions in Rwanda, money received by Rwanda, “Rwandan lack of freedoms and democracy” – as though asylum seekers are coming to start a political party, calling it the “Rwanda Deal”, all to avoid the elephant in the room. Europe is going through an existential crisis, and Rwanda is offering the perfect catharsis.