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What Rwandans think Labour should do with migrant plan if it gets into power

Labour is planning to scrap the Tories’ flagship Rwanda migration deal if it wins this week’s election, and senior political figures in the country agree the scheme should be dumped.

Speaking to i, Rwandan presidential candidate Frank Habineza objected to the plan for burdening Africa with a European problem and echoed Reform UK’s arguments that asylum seekers should be returned to the first country they came through.

“If the UK doesn’t want them they should end them to the first country they arrive in. If these people pass through the English Channel then send them to France, not to Rwanda,” he said.

Mr Habineza, leader of Rwanda’s Democratic Green Party, has been opposed to the bill from the start because he believes it violates migrants‘ human rights.

“To send those people to a third country, Rwanda, is against their human rights because it’s not their choice, they chose to come to the UK,” he said. “The UK should have responsibility for those people.”

Mr Habineza is one of two challengers to Paul Kagame’s presidency in a vote scheduled for 15 July alongside parliamentary elections.

He said migrants would struggle to find work in Rwanda, and compete with locals already battling a jobs shortage. “People come to UK as it has more opportunities, if these people come here they will also struggle. It will be hard for them to find jobs – even those who are here can’t easily find jobs.”

Not all Rwandans agree. “Instead of looking at migrants taking jobs, instead the deal is seen as a source of jobs since UK is paying a lot of money, construction is taking place for possible apartments,” said Gonzaga Muganwa, a Kigali-based political analyst.

More than £240m spent by the Government on the scheme may be lost if the Conservatives are voted out.

But despite the money Rwanda is set to receive from the UK under the deal, Mr Habineza insists the scheme would be detrimental to the economy, overloading infrastructure and services in Africa’s most densely populated country.

Still, stopping the flights is not a top priority for Mr Habineza, who admits it is not something he’s campaigning on or even in his party’s manifesto.

Food security is his biggest policy. “We are looking to making sure everyone has at least three meals a day,” he says, as well as looking to reduce reliance on food imports from India and elsewhere across Asia.

Analyst Mr Muganwa confirmed that “most citizens don’t care about [the migrants deal]” and it was “not a big topic locally” if it goes ahead or not, with growing the economy and improving living standards seen as far more important.

However, he added that “generally the population is positive to welcoming refugees”.

Developing and expanding rainwater harvesting techniques for the dry season is a more important political topic for Mr Habineza and Rwandans as a whole, in a country where 90 per cent of the workforce is in agriculture.

Mr Habineza’s chances of becoming president, however, are low. In the 2017 presidential elections, he finished third, with just 0.5 per cent of the vote. President Kagame received 98.8 per cent.

For the second time running, Kagame critic Diane Rwigara was banned from running on technical grounds. Freedom House gave the 2017 election zero out of four for freedom, citing ballot stuffing, coercion, poll worker favouritism and denial of access among other violations on election day and before.

As in many states where an incumbent president wins so emphatically, there are questions about how far the Democratic Green Party is a challenge to Mr Kagame.

“Our manifesto, for 2017 and 2018, has been implemented by the state, over 70 per cent of our key promises have been realised… The things we had could not be ignored by the government,” says Mr Habineza.

Mr Muganwa says the election is “not a competitive election, the incumbent is expected to win by a landslide”.

“The strongest opposition does not compete in elections as it is diaspora based,” he added. The Rwandan National Congress (RNC) is perhaps the most well-known exiled group, formed in 2010 by members of Mr Kagame’s inner circle who had fled the country. Former spy chief and founder Patrick Karegeya was murdered in Johannesburg in 2013. At the time, Mr Kagame denied responsibility for the murder but said, “I actually wish Rwanda did it”.

In Rwanda’s last parliamentary elections in 2018, Mr Habineza and a party colleague became the first opposition MPs to enter the parliament dominated by Mr Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Mr Habineza sidesteps questions on how free and fair this election will be, saying only that he’s “very hopeful we will have a higher percentage [than in 2017] and we hope for more than 20 MPs” in Rwanda’s 80 member chamber of deputies, parliament’s lower house.

Only 53 of those members are directly elected, with 24 seats reserved for women elected by the provincial councils and the remaining appointed by other bodies.

The breakdown means Rwanda has the largest percentage of female MPs of any global parliament, at 61.3 per cent, and was designed that way as following the genocide of 1994 the population consisted of significantly more women than men.

Both Namibia and Botswana rejected approaches by the UK to accept migrants and asylum seekers in proposed deals similar to the one agreed with Rwanda.

Despite reports to the contrary, the government of Costa Rica confirmed to i that there had been no “formal request from the United Kingdom to receive overseas migrants”, as the country reiterated its position that it would not be interested in such a deal.

i has approached Labour for comment.

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