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I am a survivor of the Rwandan genocide – it’s not a safe country for refugees


3 min read

I was a foster parent for young refugees who came to Kent via the Channel, but were too old to live on their own.

One of them, a young boy from Afghanistan, saw his family killed in front of him. He told me: “The Taliban finished my family. But one day, maybe I can get married and start a new family of my own.” For him, nothing was more important than finding a place to call home.

For a boy living with such trauma, the Rwanda plan would have been devastating. Imagine thinking you had found a safe place where you could put down roots, only to learn you could be sent to another country, thousands of miles away, all because you had been unfortunate enough to take a dangerous journey? 

Actually, I don’t have to imagine, because I know. I am a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Although I came to the United Kingdom by plane to live with my British in-laws, I was widowed and alone. I, too, know what it’s like to have your home taken from you and the importance of being secure enough to build another one.

If the treatment of refugees in Rwanda turns out to be less than advertised, how will they be able to speak out?

When I heard the Court of Appeal had ruled against the government, I was relieved for two reasons. Firstly, because no asylum seeker should live with the uncertainty of being sent on another long journey again, applying for asylum again, and – as the judges noted – facing a real risk of being sent back to the country of persecution again. Worse yet, conscripted by your host government into armed groups destabilising the region – as was the case of Burundian refugees in Rwanda.

Secondly, I was relieved, because the reality is that Rwanda is not a safe country for refugees. In 2017, when Israel tried a similar scheme, it was reported some of those deported to Rwanda were almost immediately expelled and pushed back into the arms of smugglers. In 2018, Rwandan police shot and killed 12 refugees protesting conditions. Even the accommodation supposed to house asylum seekers from the UK is tarnished with the repressive and cynical nature of the regime. Last year orphans of the Rwandan genocide were evicted from their hostel in order to make way for UK asylum seekers.

Reporters Without Borders call Rwanda’s media landscape “one of the poorest in Africa”  due to the levels of oppression. If the treatment of refugees in Rwanda turns out to be less than advertised, how will they be able to speak out?

According to the Home Office’s own estimates, the Rwanda plan would cost £196,000 per refugee deported. As someone who has experienced displacement and the icy grasp of oppressive regimes, I can tell you that the right to speak your mind and feel at home is worth more than that.

Although I have seen more horror and tragedy than most people encounter in their lifetime, in the UK I have thrived. I know this country is full of welcoming communities that can help other refugees do the same. I urge the government to accept the court’s decision, and focus on creating a more compassionate, fair and effective asylum system right here at home instead.


Prudentienne Seward, survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide

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