A week before the first arrival was due to arrive, workers were putting the finishing touches on a small wooden shed next to the inn’s restaurant. “This will be a store so they can buy what they need here instead of going out of the house,” explained Ismael Pekina, managing director of the company. Two covered areas in the gardens will serve as smoking areas and the remote tent will double as an interview room and games area.
There is an airport-style security check before the front desk, including a baggage scanner and guards with metal detectors. They are polite, professional and thorough. “You see, we are ready for migrants, even today,” Pacina says, speaking to CNN just hours before the first round of legal challenges against deportation kicked off in the UK last week. Legal cases against the policy have so far been unsuccessful, and the first flight from the UK to Rwanda is set to take off on Tuesday.
When they arrive, two immigrants will share each room, with shared bathrooms and laundry areas on each floor. They will also have two red carpeted prayer areas overlooking the hills of Kigali, free Wi-Fi and computers to follow their legal cases. The Rwandan authorities point out the relative privilege that immigrants will have here, compared to the ruling in British detention facilities.
“We want them to have safe and dignified accommodation, and there’s also a package they’re going to have so that they can acquire the skills to get any education, and possibly start a business,” Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makulu told CNN.
The United Kingdom says it will pay Rwanda 120 million pounds ($145 million) over the next five years to fund the programme. Furthermore, the UK has also promised to pay processing and integration costs for each person transferred, covering the cost of legal advice, caseworkers, translators, accommodation, food and healthcare. According to a parliamentary research brief, the British government said it expects these costs to be similar to those of asylum processing in the UK, which are around £12,000 per person.
The UK has refused to reveal the cost of the flights it will charter to take the deportees to Rwanda. In its latest annual report, the Home Office said it paid £8.6m to charter 47 deportation flights carrying 883 people in 2020. While the cost of individual flights varies by destination, the numbers mean that, on average, the Home Office spent £183,000 per flight or £9,700 per person.
Since there is no cap on the number of migrants, it is likely that thousands will flock to Kigali during the first five years of the plan.
Human Rights Watch has monitored and investigated the human rights situation in Rwanda for decades, documenting violations that ranged from “repression of freedom of expression to arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture by the Rwandan authorities.”
The UK plan has also drawn criticism from the only opposition party that ran against Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the last election, the Green Democratic Party of Rwanda, which says the country cannot afford it. “Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Do you think it would be easy for Rwanda to help these people?” Jean-Claude Ntizimana, CNN General Secretary.
Rwanda is roughly one-tenth the size of the United Kingdom, but is home to nearly 13 million people, roughly one-fifth of the UK’s population.
The Green Party accuses the UK of violating its international obligations to ship unwanted migrants 4,000 miles to Rwanda. “When the choice of refugees is not inhumane and illegal,” Ntizimana said.
The Rwandan government insists that it is completely legal.
“There are no laws to be broken with this partnership,” McCullough told CNN. “Nothing in the Refugee Convention prevents asylum seekers from moving to another safe country.”
McCullough admits that a similar program with Israel did not work and that Rwanda abandoned it “very quickly”. But she says the UK migrant deal is very different and it will work. Indeed, she said, Rwanda may soon accept immigrants from Denmark as well, with negotiations nearing the conclusion.
Recently, Rwanda partnered with the United Nations refugee agency to take in vulnerable asylum seekers who were evacuated from Libya. Just over 1,000 migrants passed through the emergency transit center in Gachora in the three years the program was active. According to the director of the center, migrants stay between four and eight months on average before being resettled abroad. Migrants have three options: resettlement elsewhere, voluntary repatriation, or local integration into Rwandan society. Neither of the latter, according to Knight Ryombo, chose the camp manager.
“You can’t compare them (Libya and Rwanda),” said Zimen Fasaha, 26, an Eritrean refugee at the Ghashoura transit centre. He spent four years in what he described as horrific conditions in Libya, where he repeatedly tried, but in vain, to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. “It’s like going from hell to heaven.”
Although the 11 months he spent in Rwanda in the camp were safer and easier, he was determined to leave.
And time is not alone in this. None of the refugees in the emergency center that CNN spoke to wanted to stay in Rwanda.
Nyalada Gatluak Gani, 26, from South Sudan, dreams of moving to Finland with her one and a half year old son. “What I want is not here, it is there,” she said.
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