Where is Rwanda and why are asylum seekers sent there?

Kigali skyline

With over one million inhabitants (2012), Kigali is the capital and largest city of Rwanda (Photo: Getty Images)

The government has announced controversial multi-million pound plans for Asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats to be flown 4000 miles away for processing in Rwanda.

Home Secretary Priti Patel proposed the plan at a time when ministers are under increasing pressure to cope with the number of people trying to reach the UK by making the perilous journey across the English Channel.

However, this drew criticism, with shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper calling the project “a mess and a shame” while speaking in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed the plan, saying it is vital to tackling “disgusting people smugglers” but has been criticized by a number of charities, who saw it as a “cruel and evil decision”.

The maiden flight was scheduled to take place on Tuesday 14 June but was canceled at the last minute after fierce legal challenges.

But where exactly is Rwanda and why are refugees being sent there?

Where is Rwanda?

Map and flag of Rwanda

Rwanda is located in east-central Africa (Image: Getty Images)

Rwanda is a landlocked country in east-central Africa, bordering Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is one of the smallest countries in Africa but also the fifth largest country in the world, with a population of around 12.6 million living in an area of ​​10,169 square miles.

Around a million people live in the capital Kigali.

The country’s current president is Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who has been in power since 2000.

The country made headlines in the early 1990s when the Rwandan civil war began in 1990, which arose out of a longstanding dispute between the Hutu and Tutsi sub-groups of the Banyarwanda, the cultural and linguistic group of people who make up much of Rwanda’s population.

The war lasted nearly four years and resulted in the Rwandan genocide, which killed more than half a million Tutsis between April and July 1994.

It ended later in July when the RPF seized the last of the territory held by the caretaker government and forced the government and genocide into Zaire.

The RPF took control of the country with Paul Kagame de facto ruling. Kagame served as Vice President from 1994 and President from 2000.

Is Rwanda safe?

Rwanda has been said to be ‘generally safe’ but street crime does occur (Image: Getty Images)

That The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office states: “Rwanda is generally safe and crime is relatively low, but street crime does occur. There have been reports of burglaries, thefts and muggings in Kigali in recent months. You should be careful with valuables and stay alert.’

However, she warns: “The security situation near the borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi remains unstable, and there have been armed attacks in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Parks and adjacent areas.

“If you are traveling near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Burundi, you should be aware of the risk of attacks and security operations by the government of Rwanda.

“Be careful and keep yourself informed of developments on the current situation, including via your tour operator, local media and this travel advisory.”

Why is Britain sending asylum seekers to Rwanda?

The Prime Minister has argued that the decision was taken to discourage asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel and being targeted by opportunistic people smugglers.

“I accept that these people – whether 600 or a thousand – are looking for a better life; the opportunities that the UK offers and the hope of a fresh start,” said Mr Johnson.

“But it’s those hopes – those dreams – that have been exploited.

“Abusing the weak, these vile human smugglers are turning the English Channel into a wet graveyard where men, women and children are drowning in unseaworthy boats and suffocating in refrigerated trucks.”

However, British Red Cross Executive Director Zoe Abrams said they were “deeply concerned” by the plans to “send traumatized people halfway around the world to Rwanda”.

Migrants wearing life jackets sit in a dinghy as they illegally cross the English Channel from France to Britain.

Migrants have made the perilous journey across the Channel to the UK hoping to find a better life (Image: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

“The financial and human costs will be significant; Evidence of where offshoring has been done elsewhere shows it is causing profound human suffering and the bill taxpayers are likely to foot is huge,” she said.

“We are also not convinced that this drastic measure will prevent desperate people from crossing the English Channel.”

Enver Solomon, executive director of the Refugee Council, has also urged the government to “reconsider its plans immediately”.

“We are appalled by the government’s cruel and vile decision to send to Rwanda those seeking refuge in our country,” he said.

“The outsourcing of the UK asylum system will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons people make dangerous journeys to find safety in the UK.”

Grounded Rwanda deportation flight EC-LZO Boeing 767 at Boscombe Down Air Base (Image: Getty Images)

Has the Rwanda flight taken off?

The first flight to Rwanda was scheduled to take off on Tuesday 14 June but was carried out stopped at the last minute.

The Boeing 767-300 – chartered to taxpayers at a cost of £500,000 – has been grounded at RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, after a frantic series of last-minute legal challenges.

The government hoped that 31 people who were served with deportation papers on Friday June 10 would be on the flight. But the judges dismissed charges against 24 of them after actions by unions and charities.

Another man was allowed to stay after the European Court of Human Rights intervened on Monday 13 June.

The decision led to a grace period for the final six minutes later. The Home Office finally confirmed that the flight had been canceled just after 10 p.m. after the runway lights were switched off.

Priti Patel said she was disappointed the flight couldn’t depart but said she wouldn’t let anything stop her from doing the right thing, adding: “Our legal team is reviewing every decision that was made on this flight and preparations for the next flight are now beginning.’

MORE: Adil Ray praised by GMB viewers for attacking Dominic Raab over Rwanda refugee policy: ‘Some would say it’s racist’

MORE: Britain should look after all asylum seekers, not just those who look ‘like us’

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Justin Scacco

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