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Johnson defends Rwanda after concerns over ‘dismal’ human rights record

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s immigration plan has been heavily criticised (PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s immigration plan has been heavily criticised (PA)

Boris Johnson has described Rwanda as one of the safest countries in the world and warned critics of the “risk of stereotyping” after concerns were raised about its human rights record.

Under new plans, some of those who attempt to enter the UK by routes deemed “illegal” by the Government will be sent more than 4,000 miles to Rwanda while their claims are assessed.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, warned that sending people seeking asylum in the UK to another country “let alone one with such a dismal human rights record” is “the very height of irresponsibility”.

The Institute for Public Policy Research think tank’s associate director for migration, trade and communities, Marley Morris, said: “There are serious concerns over Rwanda’s human rights record, including reports of arbitrary detention, torture and degrading treatment, and political imprisonment.

“Sending vulnerable people who have fled persecution to offshore processing hubs is a recipe for further human rights violations.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, said: “Treating people like human cargo by using the force of military to repel vulnerable people who have already endured extreme human suffering and expelling them to centres in Rwanda, a country with a questionable record on human rights, is dangerous, cruel and inhumane.”

But speaking at an airport in Kent, the Prime Minister said: “I just want to say something about Rwanda because I think there’s a risk of stereotyping here.

“Rwanda has totally transformed over the last few decades, it’s a very, very different country from what it was.

“This is not something that we’ve put together overnight, this has been nine months in preparation. So I would urge people not to think in a blinkered way about Rwanda.”

He added: “Let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”

Mr Johnson said the plans, including putting the Navy in charge of efforts in the Channel, are needed to stop the “barbaric trade in human misery conducted by the people smugglers”.

“We need to encourage them to take the safe and legal route if they want to come to this country,” he said.

Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, says on its website that “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace” in Rwanda.

It says: “The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front continues to target those perceived as a threat to the government.

“Several high-profile critics have been arrested or threatened and authorities regularly fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents.

“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics.

“Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of street children, sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely.”

Rwanda is a landlocked country is east-central Africa, with a population of around 13 million. It joined the Commonwealth in 2009.

In terms of size, it is roughly between Wales and Belgium and its climate is tropical. It borders Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its first language is Kinyarwanda but English is an official language.

Paul Kagame is the country’s president and has held the position since 2000.

He leads the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party, which has been in power since the end of the civil war in 1994. He held other Government posts between 1994 and 2000 but was described as the country’s de facto leader in that period.

Before the end of the war, the then Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed when his plane was shot down over the capital.

The incident was followed by the Rwandan genocide by Hutu extremists against the Tutsis and their allies, including moderate Hutus. About 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days.

The RPF, led by the Tutsis, including Mr Kagame, won the civil war after taking the capital, Kigali, in July 1994.

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