Illustration by Jam Moreno.

Britain’s Relocation Plan is Reminiscent of Neocolonialism

The perfunctory deal signed by the UK and Rwanda exposes some loopholes, but on a more general level raises questions whether the deal is another vehicle to perpetuate Western influence is a space that has been continually tried to be decolonized.

May 9, 2022

Two weeks ago, on April 14, Rwanda and the United Kingdom signed the “Rwanda-UK Migration and Economic Development Partnership” under which those who illegally arrive in the U.K. will be transferred to Rwanda. According to this accord, the U.K. plans to invest €120 million in the country to support the needs of asylum seekers for relevant legal processes.
For the U.K., this deal is a way to “ease the burden of dealing with immigrants'', but it carries much bigger implications for immigrant rights and the dynamics of political power. The U.K. investment may not be enough to ensure the needs of asylum seekers' are fulfilled in Rwanda, which raises the question of whether asylum seekers will be treated in optimal conditions there. Moreover, the U.K. relieving the load of dealing with immigrants to Rwanda is also a form of imperialism, ensuring Western influences and use of the region to their benefit. A final worry is that the U.K. government under this deal may “hand-pick” African and Arab immigrants to be sent to Rwanda, instating discrimination.
As summarized by The Daily Mail, the way this scheme will work is that some migrants will have their legal processes completed in the U.K. at RAF Linton-On-Use while others will be given a one-way ticket to the country where they would be given housing for the three-month period while their claims are processed. If their asylum requests are approved, those in Rwanda will remain there, ineligible to reside in the U.K.; if not, they will be deported back to their home countries. This has brought outrage as those removed to Rwanda will not hold the same rights as an immigrant in the U.K. does.
This partnership was raised from the U.K.’s need to “ease the “burden of unwanted guests”. This treaty was previously proposed to Kenya which rejected it as it would represent a massive economic burden that the U.K.’s investment would not cover. As the nation Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta stated, the deal aims to ensure migrants are protected, respected and empowered to further their ambitions and settle in Rwanda. As the country represents one of the fastest-growing economies in the region, it seems like a good destination for newcomers.
This is not the first time the East African nation has accepted refugees from other countries. In 2014, it accepted African migrants who had been denied residence in Israel, and in 2021, it agreed to host migrants denied entry into Denmark. Additionally, it has also taken refugees from Libya who had failed to cross into Europe. Given the country’s policy of not denying asylum to any migrant in need, it is no surprise they have accepted this deal, also considering that as a fast-growing nation, the capital invested as collateral to this deal is also beneficial for the nation.
Still, this new policy has brought anger and fear from immigrants and human rights advocates. Refugees’ aid groups like Care4Calais reported frantic messages and calls since the policy has been issued as refugees fear being sent to Rwanda as many states this was not their destination of preference. They feel uncertain about the future as many of them lack a thorough understanding of the country and may have negative prejudices about the region fueled by Western perspectives. For refugees, the future already seems uncertain and being possibly sent to another country where they did not plan to live initially, adds up to this anxiety. The lack of details also increases this feeling as it just states that everyone that “comes to the U.K. illegally, or by dangerous or unnecessary methods” will be sent away.
Moreover, the United Nations refugee agency, U.N.H.C.R. has denounced this policy for contradicting the 1951 Refugee Convention. These institutions plus Amnesty International call it neo-colonialism. Even Rwandans like Theogen Rudasingwa, previous President Kagame's chief of staff, have raised concerns about the country’s ability to take up the financial burden of dealing with U.K. refugees, mostly considering that U.K. financial support may not be enough. Moreover, the regime of Kagame has been flagged for censoring those who rise against them and talk about their inhumane treatment of Congolese refugees. Rudasingwa stated for CBC news that he is scared Kagame is using this deal to hide the inhumane actions of his regime. Although Rwanda has been growing economically and gaining stability in the last few years, Rudasigwa is further concerned that this deal with the U.K. is part of the overcompensation of Western countries after not doing enough to interfere with the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
There’s a worry that Rwanda’s asylum system may not be able to cope with all the asylum demands from the U.K., as was the case with the previous arrangement with Israel.
Most importantly, this policy is imperialist in nature. Sending asylum seekers to lower-income countries strips them of their right to have their cases reviewed by the country they arrive in as stated by the International Refugee Convention, as well as it increases their chance of displacement. It is feared that other western countries will continue to implement this scheme like it was the case of Australia. In that case, Australia attempted to move asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua Guinea. This scheme is particularly dangerous because Western countries sending their asylum seekers offshore allows them to keep a political and economic foothold in Africa.
Furthermore, parallels can be drawn between this policy and neocolonialism. Rudasingwa stated that this policy is being fueled by racism, as he fears only those of often discriminated races will be sent offshore. “If they are not Muslims, if they are not Arabs, if they are not blacks… I don’t think they will be under this policy,” added Rudasingwa for CBC news.
Claudia Alcarra is Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
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