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UK’s asylum policy and Rwanda’s M23 involvement: a troubling contradiction

In the heart of Eastern Congo’s conflict, the M23 rebel group, active since 2012, has emerged as a central and deadly player. Claiming to protect Congolese Tutsis, their actions have led to significant humanitarian concerns. Reports from organisations like Amnesty International suggest Rwanda’s support for M23, intensifying the crisis in the region. This support is evidenced by M23’s increased activities in Nord-Kivu province, which have led to significant civilian displacement and destabilisation. Reports of human rights abuses proliferate.

Such human rights violations committed by M23, particularly highlighted in the November 2022 attacks in Kishishe, are well-documented. These attacks resulted in numerous fatalities and sexual assaults, drawing international condemnation. Despite these reports, M23 leadership consistently denies any involvement in such abuses. However, the denial stands in stark contrast to survivor accounts and independent investigations.

A UN panel’s December 2024 report, for instance. substantiates claims of Rwanda’s support for M23, including the involvement of Rwandan troops in the conflict. These findings are corroborated by the UN Security Council, which reports on Rwanda’s direct military support for M23 operations. The convergence of these reports paints a troubling picture of Rwanda’s role in exacerbating the conflict in Eastern Congo.

Despite mounting evidence, Rwanda’s government steadfastly denies any involvement with M23. This denial, which is at odds with the international community’s findings, raises serious questions about Rwanda’s commitment to regional stability and its role in perpetuating the conflict.

All of this concern comes at a time when the UK is seeking to present Rwanda as a stable and secure country.

The UK government’s policy of deeming Rwanda a safe destination for asylum seekers starkly contrasts with these developments. The UK’s plan involves a £140 million deal with Rwanda for deporting asylum seekers, a move that has sparked considerable legal and ethical debates. Critics argue that the policy ignores the complex reality on the ground in Rwanda, particularly its alleged support for M23 and the resulting human rights implications.

The UK Supreme Court’s recent decision to highlight Rwanda’s human rights record, including its alleged support for M23, casts further doubt on the UK government’s stance. This judicial decision underscores the contradiction in the UK’s asylum policy, especially in light of Rwanda’s questionable human rights practices. It raises ethical concerns about the UK’s responsibility in ensuring the safety and well-being of asylum seekers.

The situation becomes even more complex when considering the international relations and diplomatic ties between the UK and Rwanda. The UK’s insistence on pursuing this policy, despite the evidence and legal challenges, suggests a complicated interplay of geopolitical interests and domestic politics. The policy has been criticised for potentially violating international asylum laws and human rights standards, putting vulnerable individuals at risk.

This has not deterred the Conservative government in the UK.

James Cleverly, the UK Home Secretary, is currently in the capital, Kigali, seeking to sign a new treaty, following the UK Supreme Court’s decision against the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. This visit aims to reinforce the UK’s commitment to the partnership with Rwanda, especially in response to the legal challenges the policy has faced.

The Home Office is also planning domestic legislation that would assert Rwanda as a safe destination for asylum seekers arriving in Britain, reinforcing the government’s stance that Rwanda is a secure and suitable location for these individuals.

There is a growing skepticism among lawyers and charities about the viability of the policy, with the expectation that a plane transporting asylum seekers to Rwanda may not depart before the next UK general election in 2024. The suggestion of sending British lawyers to Rwanda to address legal system concerns has been met with criticism. Legal experts, including Nick Emmerson, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, argue that this move indicates a lack of confidence in Rwanda’s legal system and the policy’s overall feasibility. Toufique Hossain, from Duncan Lewis Solicitors, also questions the effectiveness of this approach, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s acceptance of UNHCR’s concerns about Rwanda’s asylum procedures.

Additionally, financial aspects of the UK-Rwanda agreement are under scrutiny. Despite the UK’s commitment of £140 million to the scheme, recent reports suggest Rwanda is seeking an additional £15 million. However, a source close to the Home Secretary denies any extra money being requested or offered for the treaty. Dame Diana Johnson, chair of the home affairs select committee, expressed concern over the government’s lack of transparency regarding additional costs.

The issue also extends beyond the legal realm into the moral and humanitarian domain. The policy raises questions about the UK’s commitment to upholding human rights and its role as a global actor in the international community. It challenges the UK’s moral authority and its ability to advocate for human rights and justice worldwide.

It is of note that the Rwandan government refused to grant AOAV’s Executive Director – Dr Iain Overton – a journalist visa to analyse other allegations of human rights abuses. A nation that does not permit the freedom of the press is crucial to ensuring that nations deemed ’safe’ by the UK government are actually that.  This charity remains unconvinced, especially with reports of 13 refugees shot and killed by Rwandan police in 2018.

In conclusion, the UK’s policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda seems to be in contradiction with the evidence of Rwanda as a peaceful nation, especially given its involvement in supporting the M23 rebels. This truth presents a significant challenge, questioning the ethics and validity of the UK’s asylum practices. It also highlights the need for a more nuanced and informed approach to international asylum policies, one that considers the complex realities of global conflicts and human rights issues.

Dr. Iain Overton said of this complexity: ‘The UK’s decision to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, a nation seemingly implicated in fuelling the M23 crisis, is not just a legal paradox but a moral dilemma. It reflects a troubling disregard for the complex realities of international conflict and human rights. As a nation, we must reassess our stance and ensure that our policies are aligned with our commitment to humanitarian principles and the protection of the vulnerable. This situation calls for a more informed, ethical approach to asylum, one that upholds the dignity and safety of all individuals seeking refuge.

The UK’s approach to Rwanda and the M23 conflict is more than a policy decision; it is a reflection of its values and priorities on the international stage. As such, it is imperative for the UK to reevaluate its stance, taking into account the broader implications of its decisions on international relations, human rights, and the lives of those seeking asylum.