The Rwandan government stands accused of preventing fair and open reporting of its treatment of refugees as it emerges Action on Armed’s Executive Director Iain Overton has failed to gain press accreditation in the equatorial African nation.
Overton, who has won two Amnesty awards for his human rights coverage, travelled to the capital Kigali in August 2022, having submitted his request for press accreditation 30 days before his departure. He was there to report on the human rights conditions of refugees in Rwanda.
The UK government plans to send asylum seekers arriving in Britain to the landlocked country, 10,000 km away, so as to discourage people from crossing the English Channel.
Despite paying the media visa fee and exchanging in excess of 100 messages with the Rwandan Media Commission, no journalist accreditation had been issued at the time of this report, or in the days after.
The Commissioner’s representative, Biganiro R. Guy, claimed that the application was ‘under process’ more than a month after being submitted. The Rwanda Media Commission’s website said it would take 7 days to process media visas when the application was submitted on the 11 July. This estimation was since changed to read ‘depends on the case’.
Overton travelled to Rwanda in order to investigate the ability of the Rwandan government to uphold its refugees’ human rights. 13 refugees were shot and killed by Rwandan police in 2018.
Rwandan police shot 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo protesting outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Karongi District, Western Province, in February of that year. As of August 2022, there is still no justice for the killings. Another refugee death at the hands of the police also occurred in that year.
A year after the massacre, Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, was to say that “there can be no justification for shooting at unarmed protesters. The Rwandan government is trampling on the graves of the victims by refusing to acknowledge how many people were actually killed or holding those responsible to account.”
The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has said that journalists criticising Rwanda for its human rights abuses are in danger of being xenophobic. The Home Secretary has yet to reference the recent Rwandan massacre of refugees in any of her speeches in the House of Commons.
The failure of the Rwandan Media Commission to issue a visa to an investigative Byline journalist from the UK stands in contrast to its granting a Daily Mail journalist one. Nick Fagge wrote a report in May 2022 that stated refugees from the UK will be put up at taxpayers’ expense in a Kigali hotel “with a swimming pool, spa facilities, free WIFI, flat screen TVs with satellite channels, a tennis court, a gym and access to a golf course”. Mr Fagge did not mention the 2018 massacre.
It is understood other British journalists deemed critical of the Rwandan government have also experienced delays in the issuance of press accreditation, with permission granted long after the reporters have left the country.
The failure of the Rwandan government to grant permission to a journalist to investigate its human rights raises concerns about the degree to which the reporting on future refugees sent to Rwanda from Britain will be possible.
To date, no refugee has been sent from the UK. Officials for the east African nation’s government have confirmed they have received an initial payment of £120m for the refugee agreement, signed in April 2022. Britain may lose this amount if the plan to deport migrants is ruled unlawful by the UK courts.
A report by MPs has found no evidence that asylum seekers were deterred by the UK’s Rwanda refugee policy, noting double the number of migrants predicted to arrive in small boats in 2022, compared to 2021.
The Rwanda Media Commission representative, Biganiro Guy, did not respond to questions as to why he failed to give Overton a visa, nor to what happened to the visa fee. He then blocked Mr Overton on WhatsApp after being asked for a right to reply to this article.
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