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As a refugee myself, I welcome the government's Rwanda plan

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international co-operation, Vincent Biruta, signed a "world-first" migration and economic development partnership in the East African nation's capital city Kigali, Thursday April 14, 2022 [Alamy]

3 min read

As one of the 28,000 Ugandan Asian refugees who fled to the United Kingdom 50 years ago from the brutal dictator Idi Amin, I am aware of the struggle faced by those fleeing persecution, and want to do what I can to help protect the rights of asylum seekers.

This is why I welcome the government’s migrant and economic development partnership with Rwanda, because it allows the UK to continue supporting refugees whilst tackling illegal immigration. The partnership will not only finally put a stop to uncontrollable immigration in the UK, but it will deter inhumane criminal gangs from risking the lives of thousands of migrants taking that life-threatening journey across the channel in rubber dinghies. This scheme which has been successfully done in other countries, such as Australia, can provide the answer to fixing the UK’s broken asylum system.

The reality of the current asylum system is that it is one that is open to abuse by economic migrants

The UK is one of the most generous countries when it comes to refugees, having provided a place of refuge to more than 185,000 people through various resettlement schemes since 2015. In order to continue with this generosity in the face of a global migration crisis, with more than 80 million displaced people in the world, a new approach is needed. The reality of the current asylum system is that it is one that is open to abuse by economic migrants, taking up capacity and inhibiting our ability to help the most vulnerable women and child refugees. So, any partnership that can help remove the incentive for economic migrants to abuse the system, while ensuring protection of the truly vulnerable, should be welcomed.

A lot of criticisms of the scheme have focused on invoking lazy stereotypes of Rwanda, whilst failing to acknowledge the transformation of the country in recent decades. Because of Rwanda’s history, the country has a deep connection to the plight of those seeking safety and opportunity in a new land. Rwanda has one of the world’s strongest records of refugee resettlements and has given sanctuary to hundreds of thousands of refugees, including through United Nations schemes supported by the European Union. Rwanda’s constitution enshrines full rights for all asylum seekers, whilst ranking as one of the world’s safest places in multiple global indexes.

This partnership builds on wider collaboration with Rwanda on a range of critical issues including efforts to combat climate change and global poverty. As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Rwanda, I have been proud to see Rwanda grow into the economic powerhouse of Africa. Kigali is now a dynamic and diverse capital with a growing entrepreneurial middle class and a booming tech sector. And when it comes to gender equality, Rwanda enjoys some of the highest rates of female participation in the labour market globally; not least in its political system, where it was the first country in the world to have a female majority parliament.  

There is no better country in the world than Britain to seek refuge and to start a better life. Britain’s tradition of protection for those fleeing persecution is something we should all be proud of. It is essential that we protect this tradition by controlling illegal migration and ensuring that we have the capacity to help those most in need. The migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda emphasises our shared humanitarian values, will strengthen our bilateral relationship, provide investment and economic opportunity, and set a new international standard to address the challenges of global migration and people smuggling. This is a moment of joint leadership on the global stage for Rwanda and the UK. And I have no doubt that other countries in the region and beyond will look to develop similar partnerships in the months and years ahead.

Lord Popat is a Conservative peer and and Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo


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Read the most recent article written by Lord Popat - The UK must seize the big trading opportunities Africa has to offer