Rwandan genocide survivors currently living in the hostel that will house asylum seekers sent from the UK under a controversial Home Office plan were sent on a day trip to avoid seeing the visit of the Home Secretary. Home Office would disrupt Priti Patel this month. Observer has learned.
Patel visited the hostel, known as Hope House, when she was in Kigali to sign the deal with Rwanda. Her visit was carefully managed by both the Rwandan authorities and the Interior Ministry to present the plan in the best possible light.
The proposal has been widely condemned as inhumane, illegal, unworkable and unaffordable. Critics have included Tory MPs and colleagues, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who in his Easter Sunday sermon said the plan “will not stand the judgment of God”.
The UK’s asylum seekers will be housed in Hope House, a facility built to provide safe housing and a “new family” for between 150 and 190 young orphans in the 1994 genocide, when up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in three months of mass murder.
Many of the survivors have now left, but those who remain have spent most of their lives in the hostel and have limited resources.
On the day of Patel’s visit, 22 residents were informed by authorities that they were being taken on a 90-mile tour to the southern town of Bugesera, where they spent much of the day viewing genocide memorials. After their return to Kigali, they were taken to the parliament to see another memorial. They returned to Hope House after the British officials left.
“That’s why we don’t think everything was done in good faith,” one resident told the Observer†
The British government has said it will initially pay the Rwandan government £120 million for the implementation of the plan, but will have to pay additional costs for housing, food and travel.
The residents of Hope House, formerly known as the Association of Student Survivors of Genocide (AERG) hostel, have been told they will be housed to make way for the asylum seekers sent from Britain. They expressed their concerns about their future. “Often residents who leave the hotel come back after not getting a job. It’s hard out here if you don’t have a job,” one of them told the Observer last week. A second worried that commitments to find alternative homes for them would not be fulfilled. “The government says it will hire us elsewhere, but we don’t believe it,” he said. “They say we have to go, but they haven’t given us any money. Remember that some of these survivors have lost their entire family. Where do they want us to go?”
The residents asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
A spokesman for the Rwandan government told the Observer that to suggest that the Hope Hostel is an orphanage, or a location intended to house orphans of the genocide, was “false”.
“Hope Hostel was built to house students who survived the genocide but is no longer used for these purposes as most of the residents are adults with jobs and families living independently,” the spokesperson said.
“Currently, Hope Hostel is hosting a small number of people, the youngest of whom is 29. Some in this group are graduating from university and college. It has been agreed that they will leave shortly and will be eligible for a living wage until they have found a job. [The] AERG has long had plans to convert the facility into a commercial hostel.”
AERG president Audace Mudahemuka said the hostel was built by Rwandan donors to support student survivors and “served a wonderful purpose”.
“But it was phased out long before the government contacted us about leasing for this program. Only a small portion of the beds in the hostel were used and the facility is expensive to maintain. We were delighted when the government offered to rent the property as the money we receive from them will enable us to support hundreds or even thousands of genocide survivors through our other projects across the country,” Mudahemuka said.
Officials did not deny reports of the day trip, saying only that “Hope Hostel residents can come and go as they please.”
There are also doubts about Patel’s claim that migrants sent to Rwanda after illegally entering the UK would thrive there if their asylum applications are rejected. Reporters accompanying the interior minister were introduced to a married couple from Yemen who ran a successful cafe. Burhan Almerdas, 37, praised the Rwandan people as “welcoming” and said there was a business-friendly local environment.
But while Rwanda has been credited with rapid economic growth, some statistics are disputed and the benefits of new prosperity are not distributed equally. Bapaste Gatsinzi, who took refuge in Rwanda from neighboring Burundi in 2018, said he recently moved to Uganda with his family because life in Rwanda is too “difficult”.
“Next month I will also join them and try life again,” said Gatsinzi, who lived in the eastern province of Cibitoke, a city bordering Burundi.
An Ethiopian refugee who settled in 2018 told the Observer: “It is difficult to survive in Rwanda because the cost of living is very high. I’ve set up a grocery store, but I don’t have any customers. People have no money and I’m going to close soon because I can’t pay the rent.”
An Eritrean who came to Rwanda in 2017 said he had been unable to find regular work and survived on handouts. Most of his friends have moved to Uganda, he said.
Human rights activists have long criticized Rwanda’s veteran leader, Paul Kagame, for his intolerance to dissent and the refugees Observer requested anonymity. According to officials, Rwanda is already home to more than 130,000 refugees from countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan.
Opposition politicians in Rwanda have criticized the agreement to take in asylum seekers flown in from the UK, saying Western countries must “comply with international obligations on migration issues”.
In 2019, Rwanda agreed to receive refugees and asylum seekers who had been evacuated from detention centers in Libya. The country also had a short-lived agreement with Israel.
Last week, Kagame rejected criticism of the deal. “We don’t trade people, please. This is not the case. We really help,” he says.
“It’s a clear problem and it was actually an innovation that Rwanda brought forward to address this migration problem.”