This week, Rwandan President Paul Kagame delivered a stark warning to refugees fleeing renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: “We cannot keep being host to refugees for which, later on, we are held accountable in some way, or even abused about.”
The president’s statement crudely illustrates the Rwandan government’s politicization of refugee rights. It comes at a time when Rwanda has struck an unscrupulous 120 million pounds (approximately US$145 million) deal with the United Kingdom to accept asylum seekers transferred from the UK who arrived there through “irregular” routes. Aside from attempting to sugarcoat Rwanda’s human rights record, the UK authorities have sought to justify their policy by claiming that Rwanda has a strong track record of hosting refugees – including around 76,000 from neighboring Congo. In reality, the UK government is willfully ignoring facts.
As it did a decade ago, Rwanda is supporting the M23 rebellion in eastern Congo. The renewed hostilities by the M23, the Congolese army, and various other armed groups have forced more than 520,000 people to flee their homes according to the United Nations. Recent investigations by the UN Group of Experts on Congo, as well as Human Rights Watch research, have presented evidence that Rwanda is not only providing logistical support to the M23 but is also directly intervening on Congolese soil with Rwandan troops reinforcing the ranks of the armed group or fighting alongside it.
Kagame’s comments may be a reference to the killings of at least 12 Congolese refugees in Rwanda’s Kiziba refugee camp in February 2018, when police fired live ammunition on refugees protesting outside the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office in Karongi District, Western Province.
His latest remarks reveal the authorities’ refusal to take responsibility and ensure accountability for abuses committed by Rwanda’s security forces, including against refugees. The national human rights commission’s investigation into the 2018 killings was a whitewash and no one has yet been held accountable. Instead, Rwandan police arrested over 60 refugees and charged them with participating in illegal demonstrations, violence against public authorities, rebellion, and disobeying law enforcement. Some were also charged with “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.”
Kagame’s latest attacks on human rights, this time refugee rights, just adds to the mounting evidence that Rwanda is not a reliable good faith international partner, and that the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is based on falsehoods and cynical politics.