Paul Kagame and Rishi Sunak Meet in London

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have met at 10 Downing Street in London in order to discuss an array of issues. Most pressingly, the UK’s illegal migrant deportation plan, which has faced several barriers in the two years since the plan was created.

Diplomatic Meetings

Rwandan President Paul Kagame travelled to the UK on April 9th, following his commemoration of the 30th year since the Rwandan genocide in what was called in Rwanda ‘Kwibuka 30’.

He met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London in order to hold discussions on three matters: a reflection on the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide (and the support provided by the UK following the genocide), regional security issues, as well as the UK’s illegal migrant and illegal asylum seeker deportation plan, which, if it passes, will allow the UK to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda. The plan has faced a long series of delays, legal challenges, and lately what is called in the UK ‘parliamentary ping pong’.

President Kagame’s visit comes almost two years after the deal with Rwanda was first announced by former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Presently, the UK is attempting to pass the “Safety of Rwanda” bill, which seeks to satisfy the UK’s legal obligations under domestic and international law after legal challenges had prevented previous flights from taking off. The bill had passed the House of Commons in January of 2024, but has been sent back to the House of Commons after the House of Lords voted to instate several amendments close to the end of March.

Due to the delay, and the Easter break of parliament, the bill will not be discussed again until April 15th, one day after the two year mark since the plan was announced.

Despite delays, PM Sunak has remained committed to his promise that flights will take off by the end of Spring. The UK government’s statement on the meeting finished by reiterating that “both leaders looked forward to flights departing to Rwanda in the spring,” however there remain several pressing issues in the way of this.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Photo from EPA).

Regardless if the bill passes in a timely manner, which there is the possibility it will continue to face delays in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it is unknown if the UK has secured an airline to assist with actual deportation flights. AirTanker, a UK based airline company, has refused to publicly confirm nor deny whether it has been in talks with the UK government concerning contracts to conduct deportation flights. However, AirTanker had previously, in June of 2022, stated in talks with Freedom From Torture (a UK based charity) that it had no plans of doing so. Seeing as that was nearly two years ago, it is unclear if their plans have changed.

There have additionally been recent reports that Rwandan housing marketers have sold a number of properties, which had previously been allocated to house migrants when flights began, to private buyers. Reports have claimed that approximately 70% of the 163 properties within Kigali, the Rwandan capital, have been sold. The sale means there is distinctly less space within Kigali for the migrants.

Rwanda has not denied the sales, although they did dispute the amount. They have additionally attempted to defend the sales by insisting the properties were never explicitly meant for migrants, and that there are many more options for migrants to “live alongside Rwandans.”

“None of the assigned housing estates were ever meant to be only for migrants. The idea is to integrate migrants into Rwandan communities, not create migrant ghettos” -Yolande Makolo, a Rwandan government spokeswoman

When asked by UK journalists if Rwandan properties meant for migrants were being sold, President Kagame neglected to answer.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame pictured at 10 Downing Street in London, the UK (Photo from Paul Kagame on Instagram).

The claimed sales have been condemned by both the opposition Labour party, as well as Suella Braverman, the former Home Secretary and present Conservative MP, who has had a large part in the plan.

The Labour Party has been consistently critical of the plan, and has expressed wishes to scrap it entirely.

“Now it seems there will be even less capacity to house those that are removed. The Tories’ so-called plan is unravelling by the day and taxpayers are footing the bill. It’s time for change” -Labour Party Shadow Immigration Minister, Stephen Kinnock

Minister Braverman was additionally critical of the delays of the plan, its present form, as well as the sale of houses. Previously, in 2023, Minister Braverman had travelled to Rwanda in order to tour some of the houses while they were finishing construction.

The minister has expressed a lack of optimism at the current state of the plan, claiming that while the UK may be able to successfully get a flight off the ground, that it will only be “a token flight with a low number of passengers on it.”

“The only way we generate a deterrent effect to stop people getting on the boats and coming to the UK illegally is regular flights with hundreds of passengers on those flights being sent to Rwanda on a regular basis. I’m afraid the plan, as it stands today, won’t deliver that” -Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman

Minister Braverman is not alone in her criticisms of the present state of the plan. While the Safety of Rwanda bill passed the House of Commons in January, the days leading up witnessed the largest Conservative ‘rebellion’ of PM Sunak’s premiership as 61 MP’s backed amendments put forward by former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick. The amendments failed to be implemented, and only 11 Conservative MP’s ended up voting against the bill, which passed 320-276.

Regional Security

PM Sunak and President Kagame additionally discussed issues pertaining to regional security, particularly regarding ongoing conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While conflicts have been ongoing there for almost 30 years, several aspects of the conflict have escalated recently. Namely, combat between the M23 rebels and the DRC’s government, alongside their new allies of the Southern African Development Community, has drastically escalated since mid-January.

The renewed combat, which is within the DRC’s North Kivu province, has displaced hundreds of thousands of more people, in addition to the millions of people that were already displaced. The M23 has successfully pushed back the DRC and various militias it holds conflicts with in a number of areas. Presently, combat is concentrated around the DRC town of Sake, which lies on the last remaining government held road to Goma, a city of two million people and the capital of North Kivu.

A photo showing M23 rebels in the DRC town of Kibumba on December 23rd, 2022 (Photo from Moses Sawasawa).

Rwanda has been accused of supporting the M23 by a number of different entities, including the DRC, the UN, France, the US, as well as the UK. During their discussions on Tuesday, the UK government’s statement did not renew this accusation, however stated that “the Prime Minister underlined the importance of a political process to resolve the situation.” Rwanda has denied these accusations.

President Kagame and DRC President Felix Tshisekedi are set to meet soon in a meeting hosted by Angolan President Joao Lourenco in order to hold dialogue to ease tensions between the two nations, as well as potentially bring an end to one large part of the DRC’s multitude of conflicts that plague it’s eastern provinces. No date has been set for the meeting, which is to build upon previous peace process attempts.

The Bill

The Safety of Rwanda bill seeks to establish Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country according to UK law. The reasoning for this is a deal the UK has signed with Rwanda in order to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, meant to be a deterrent for small boat crossings into the UK from the English Channel.

The deal and relevant legislation, however, were struck down by the UK’s supreme court in November on the grounds that Rwanda was not a ‘safe’ country for those being deported. The court claimed that deportees could face mistreatment in Rwanda, deportation from Rwanda to their nation of origin or a third country, and that Rwanda’s capabilities to receive an influx of deportees from the UK was not good enough.

PM Sunak and conservative MP James Cleverly tabled the Safety of Rwanda bill in response, after signing a new agreement with Rwanda. The new agreement, signed December 5th, 2023, carries with it provisions to ensure that people sent to Rwanda cannot be deported from Rwanda to another country.

UK Home Secretary James Cleverly (left) and Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Vincent Biruta (right) at the signing of the treaty in Kigali, on December 5th, 2023 (Photo from Olivier Mugwiza).

Additionally, the bill seeks to halt legal challenges from entities outside the UK, such as the European Court of Human Rights, which has prevented deportations to Rwanda in the past. PM Sunak had previously said the “decision will lie entirely with ministers”, however the amendments tabled by the Lord’s seeks to restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts and allow their intervention.

Thus far, the UK has already spent 240 million pounds (304 million USD) on the plan in payments to Rwanda, largely in order to facilitate the upgrade of Rwandan institutions and increase their ability to receive a large flow of migrants from the UK. Upon the plan’s completion, it is set to cost the UK a total of at least 370 million pounds (470 million USD).

The bill had passed through the UK’s House of Commons in January, and had been making its way through the House of Lords, however last month faced yet another setback as the House of Lords voted to instate a number of amendments on the bill, thus sending it back to the House of Commons in what is known in the UK as ‘parliamentary ping pong’.

British PM Rishi Sunak pictured in a press conference discussing the Safety of Rwanda bill on January 18th, 2024, following it’s passage in the House of Commons (Photo from Reuters).

The House of Lords voted to make amendments to the legislation that would require ministers to take “due regard to domestic and international law”, restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts on the matter, as well as an amendment which would only declare Rwanda to be a ‘safe country’ when a treaty Rwanda signed with the UK is implemented.

The opposition Labour party has expressed wishes to scrap the bill. In recent electoral polling, the Conservatives are significantly behind the Labour, polling at 20% less. If the bill passes, it faces an uncertain future under a Labour government. The UK’s election date has not been officially set, however it is likely to take place within 2024.

Stop the Boats

The Rwanda deportation plan is the flagship of PM Sunak’s ‘Stop the Boats’ initiative, which is meant to deter illegal immigrants from making the journey across the English Channel to the UK in small boats. The journey is very dangerous, and one oftentimes organized by human trafficking groups. Journeys made by migrants to various destinations in Europe regularly result in fatalities after the oftentimes poor quality and overcrowded boats capsize.

PM Sunak claimed in January the plan was working, stating that small boat entries into the UK were down a third in 2023 from 2022. However, recent large crossings show a drastic increase in small boat crossings, not a decrease. March 20th was the busiest day for small boat migrant entries into the UK, with the British Home Office stating they intercepted 10 different small boats with 514 migrants on board, which was the highest total so far in 2024.

UK authorities pictured intercepting migrants attempting to make it to the UK (Photo from PA Media).

By the end of March, over 5,000 people had entered the UK in small boats, significantly higher than the same period of 2023. Just over a week into April, the total amount of crossings has increased to 5,517 as of April 8th.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.


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