UK migrant partnership: Why small, safe Rwanda fits the bill

Friday May 27 2022
asylum in Denmark

Hundreds of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Africa walk along a motorway towards the Austrian border, near Budapest, Hungary, September 4, 2015. Following an MoU, Rwanda could host refugees and people seeking asylum in Denmark. PHOTO | FILE | DPA | AFP


In the years since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has undergone a seemingly impossible transformation and has received nearly universal acclaim for rebuilding its shattered society and re-branding itself as an "African Tiger".

Many wonder how a small, land-locked country, with post-conflict struggles, could grow economically, politically, and socially, eliminate corruption, and have a president labelled an “African Hero", receiving praise from world leaders. Well, the answers lie in understanding Rwanda’s efforts and commitments towards building a safe, evolving, and united country for current and future generations.

The same questions were raised recently, when the UK government announced plans to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, in a well-thought migrant partnership. Although the arrangement is in line with the 1951 UN Convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, of which Rwanda and UK are signatories, politicians, human-rights activists, and CSOs have criticised the plan, mostly questioning Rwanda’s capacity, and moral grounds to receive migrants. But I ask, why not Rwanda?

Rwandans know how it feels to be refugees, to be forced out of their homes, to trek long and dangerous journeys for a semblance of safety and protection, to live on rations, to be shunned by host communities and to lose hope.

Some 1,500 requests of Rwandan asylum-seekers were rejected during the period 1990-1997, yet they were fleeing genocide and persecution. Some were deported, and others voluntarily left for other countries or returned home to face the worst.

Rwanda is not a perfect country, rather one ready to play its sometimes seemingly small but tangible and impactful part in resolving dire issues.


As at the end of 2021, UNHCR reported that Rwanda hosted slightly over 127,000 refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. These figures were corroborated by Rwanda’s Ministry of Emergency Management.

In a recent speech, Rwandan President Paul Kagame talked about refugees.

“If we got all these people trapped in Libya, who can’t go back to where they came from and can’t move ahead to Europe where they wanted to go, with all our weaknesses and whatever we have in our country, these people would live a better life in Rwanda than in the Libyan prisons," he said.

Rwanda’s offer

In 2017, Rwanda adopted a refugee self-reliance strategy, in which they have freedom of movement and the right to work, as well as financial inclusion.

The money offered by the UK is not payment for asylum seekers, rather an economic transformation and integration fund, to enable Rwanda to smoothly process the migrants. Under the principle of international solidarity, Rwanda has a moral responsibility to offer a solution to the migrant crisis.

With wars and armed conflicts going on in all over the world, the migrant issue will grow and no country or region can resolve the situation on their own — not even Europe or the “Mighty West”.

So, now is the time for solidarity and compassion, not to close our minds, or our borders or initiate projects claiming to help migrants with no tangible actions or results. We ought to stand together as one global community against the same intolerance and factors that drive so many people to flee their homes in the first place.

Joseph R. Nkurunziza is the executive director of Never Again Rwanda and a spokesperson of the Rwanda civil society platform.