Rwanda is increasingly becoming home to refugees from across Africa, the Mediterranean and even Europe, experts say, as the landlocked Central African country in the Great Rift Valley marks its 60th Independence Day on Friday.
Already home to around 130,000 refugees from other African countries, including neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country was recently selected by the United Kingdom to host some asylum-seekers who had entered the country illegally.
The U.K. and Rwandan governments said the agreement would initially last for five years, and Britain had paid 120 million pounds ($158 million) for housing and integrating the migrants. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta has described the deal as a unique approach to addressing the global migration crisis by tackling root causes.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Abdoul-Kareem Hererimana, a member of Rwanda’s advisory forum, said that the great values demonstrated by his country became the basis for the U.K. to ink a migration deal in April.
He said under a 2019 memorandum of understanding signed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the African Union, Rwanda has set up an emergency transit mechanism for refugees and asylum-seekers evacuated from Libya.
Last year Rwanda also received refugees from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
According to Ismael Buchanan, senior lecturer at the University of Rwanda, refugees are choosing Rwanda as their first choice based on the country’s record of welcoming and integrating migrants from different parts of the world.
"It demonstrates Rwanda’s hospitality. Rwanda has committed to protecting at-risk people around the world and to offering a haven to those in need,” he said.
Although rights activists criticized the U.K., alleging that asylum-seekers lives will be in danger due to the Rwandan government’s poor human rights record, Buchanan said the refugees in Rwanda "enjoy a conducive environment with their rights guaranteed under various international laws.”
Rwandan officials said that the Emergence Management Ministry has started livelihood projects to promote the socioeconomic inclusion of refugees. He said with limited funding self-reliance projects have been also been initiated.
Lonzen Rugira, a Rwandan researcher, said that asylum-seekers choose Rwanda due to the safe and secure environment.
Hererimana, who is also a former cabinet minister said that the country has undergone a development "miracle" since independence and more so after the 1994 genocide.
"Post-independent Rwanda was marred by a chaos marked with divisionism, exclusion from jobs, education as well as intrigue which forced many Rwandans to flee the country from the persecution of the then regime,” he said.
Tom Ndahiro, a Rwandan researcher said for several years after independence in 1962, Rwanda lagged far behind the rest of the world and even the region in terms of development.
He said the colonial power of Belgium instead of transferring power to the people, installed despots who continued to rule the country till 1994 when the liberation war by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) brought about the change.
Hererimana said the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) with its inclusive approach which involved not only developing the country’s infrastructure and services but also sharing power with other political parties has shaped the country over the past 28 years.
The post-genocide government of national unity channeled resources towards boosting the economy, education, agriculture and infrastructure development to support continued growth, he added.
A key driver of change in the post-genocide Rwanda, according to Hererimana was the national unity and power-sharing policy which helped to minimize conflicts, coupled with education and security.
Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence on July 1, 1962. Soon after independence Gregoire Kayibanda of the Parmehutu Democratic Republican Movement became the president. He was deposed in 1973.
But the post-independence Rwanda under Kayibanda was marked by ethnic divisions, prejudice, hatred and persecution among Rwandans which led many to flee the country, according to historians and researchers.
The second president, Juvenal Habyarimana, who succeeded Kayibanda, is accused of repeating the same mistakes, the climax of which was the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group in which over a million people were massacred in 100 days period.