Martin Plaut 12 May
By Gilad Liberman
Following the recently announced trafficking in persons agreement between the UK and Rwandan strongmen Paul Kegame’s government, it is useful to be reminded of the similar scheme between Israel and Rwanda.
What happened to refugees deported by Israel to Rwanda?
The deportees were given only a paper document by Israel. Upon landing in Kigali, they would be approached by a person who introduced himself as “John”, without uniform but in what appeared to be a semi-official capacity, took the papers from them, and led them to bypass the passport control. Then, they’d be driven to a villa in Kigali, where they’d stay up to a few days. Sometimes it was guarded, sometimes the guard was armed. At some point, they’d be taken by cars to the border with Uganda and be smuggled over there, by foot. A car on the other side would take them to a hotel in Kampala. They’d have to pay separately for the Rwandan and Ugandan side. In Kampala, left without any documents, they’d be pushed to continue, to South-Sudan, Sudan, Libya, and Europe. This scenario has been repeated almost perfectly, in many testimonies, over years of deportations. Many have perished in the sea, and many more have died on the way, in the Sahara and Libya, abused harshly by the traffickers. Many have also survived and arrived in Europe. The immigration authorities in Europe, and most probably in the UK too, have heard such testimonies many times, again and again, from the refugees themselves.
Similarities and differences between the Israeli and the UK’s agreement
In contrast to the Israeli agreement, the UK’s agreement at least names Rwanda publically. It is still very vague, opaque and half-baked. The home office has indicated that the deportees will be housed in “Hope Hotel”, still to be leased by the government, containing only a few rooms. The low number of rooms indicates a mechanism for slowly disappearing small groups of people at a time, in a similar way to what was done to the deportees from Israel.
No mechanism for ensuring the safety of the deportees has been discussed.
We do not know what Israel gave Rwanda, but arms deals have been publically discussed, and reports show hacking and persecution of dissidents using the pegasus software shortly afterwards, guaranteeing that Rwanda is now an even more repressive society than it was a few years ago.
The plan fundamentally relies on disappearances
The streamlined process of disappearances is not a peculiarity of the situation or of individual action. The UK agreement, as the Israeli one, cannot be conceived but to rely on the disappearance of deportees. Their continued stay as free persons, with free access to media, would put enormous pressure on the UK and the Rwandan governments. Basic human rights and respectful living conditions do not constitute useful deterrence. Deterrence means deporting people to misery and death, a term that is understood by anyone involved. While statements such as “I will make their life miserable until I could deport them” (Eli Yishai, Israel’s former interior minister) might not be to the taste of British audiences, appeals to Rwanda’s “safety” and “dynamic economy” take a similar approach. And as we would like not to know about what exactly happens to the people we send to misery, and provide a comforting sphere of denial, the role of Rwanda as a disconnection unit is required.
As the agreement relies on disappearances, any continuous communication with the deportees will weaken the scheme. The British government must be held accountable for their survival. The Australian-Cambodian agreement, in which journalists and activists followed the few people who were deported, collapsed at the cost of dozens of millions for Australia. The Israel-Rwanda deal was broken mostly by exposing it. The Rwandan government has many ways to discommunicate a person, beyond technological means. Fear of reprisal is ubiquitous, and preserving communication channels with people under threat of arbitrary and extreme violence is difficult. People further pushed from Rwanda to Uganda and elsewhere, and survive, also live in fear, and have very little faith and trust in media and activists.