Afghan refugees in Rwanda highlight the contradictions of the ‘safe country’ idea
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to send all asylum seekers crossing the English Channel to Rwanda. At least 250 girls from a Kabul school have moved to Kigali via Doha after the Taliban came back to power in August 2021. Rwanda’s government is using the relocations to shield itself from accusations of rights violations inside and outside the country. In the Gulf, thousands of Afghan refugees are being held in inhumane conditions.
Milan (AsiaNews) - Rwanda has become one of the countries where Western states like to send Afghan refugees when they are not stranded in third countries or sent back, as Turkey and Iran do.
Increasingly, asylum seekers are being relocated to Africa (with UN support), to countries that are certainly not immune from criticism over their own record on human rights.
Soon after the Taliban came back to power in August 2021, the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA) moved to Kigali where the students, about 250 girls, travelled to after first being evacuated to Doha (Qatar). Here they have been able to continue their education, unlike girls back in Afghanistan who have been denied the right to study for the past two years.
Uganda too opened its doors to Afghan refugees, more than 2,000 at the request of the United States government.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is also planning to send Afghan refugees to Rwanda; earlier this month, he announced a bill to prevent migrants crossing the English Channel from seeking asylum in the UK.
British authorities plan to relocate “as soon as reasonably practicable” asylum seekers to Rwanda or any "safe third country", to counter “illegal immigration”.
This is despite the fact that in 2022 one in five people arriving by sea in the United Kingdom was Afghan, granted political asylum in 98 per cent of cases due to Taliban persecution and human rights violations.
Notwithstanding the legal status of irregular migrants or the British government’s obligations under the Refugee Conventions of which it is a signatory, it is hard to view Rwanda (or Uganda, Sudan and Somaliland, other African nations that offered to take in Afghan refugees) as “safe countries”.
In the past, Rwandan President Paul Kagame threatened to expel refugees already present in the country (127,000 registered by the UN refugee agency) if the international community criticised his government, led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which came to power after the 1994 genocide.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the RPF’s campaign against political opponents, who have often been arbitrarily detained and tortured.
Rwanda’s repressive actions transcend the country’s borders, targeting exiled dissidents and Rwandans who support from abroad the M23, a rebel group that has been fighting the Rwandan government from bases in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Meanwhile, Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a teacher, women's rights advocate and founder of the School of Leadership Afghanistan, twitted in August 2021 that “SOLA is resettling, but our resettlement is not permanent. A semester abroad is exactly what we’re planning. When circumstances on the ground permit, we hope to return home to Afghanistan.”
Things went differently. And now more girls are set to arrive at the school, brought by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to start the new school year.
It would seem that, in the end, sending Afghan refugees to Rwanda is a solution that everyone agrees on.
Afghan girls can continue to study, the United States can feel less guilty for abandoning the country to the Taliban after 20 years of war ("a story of hope" about SOLA and Afghan girls was aired recently on US-based CBS), while African governments can clean up their image in the eyes of the international community hoping that their "humanitarian” deed might prevent future sanctions or restrictions.
The issue of Afghan refugees is the same in the Gulf. About 2,700 have been stuck in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 15 months, with no legal route for refugee status.
Responding to the US State Department's request to receive asylum seekers before they are resettled in the United States, UAE authorities settled Afghans in a place called Emirates Humanitarian City, which, according to eyewitnesses, is overcrowded and dilapidated with rooms that are bug infested.
A Human Rights Watch report claims that most inmates suffer from depression.
Back in Afghanistan, things are getting worse, not only from a humanitarian point of view.
According to a recently released report by the Global Terrorism Index, the country has had the highest number of terror attacks in the world for the fourth consecutive year.
The latest by IS–KP, the local branch of the Islamic State, took place last week in Mazar-i Sharif, capital of the northern Afghan province of Balkh, in which some journalists were among the wounded.
In the wake of the attack, the Taliban confiscated mobile phones and took survivors into custody, perhaps to give the impression that they had the situation under control and prevent news from being reported abroad.