Britain Plans to Fly Refugees to Rwanda on Tuesday

The decision from the London court comes as Rwanda prepares to host the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in the capital, Kigali, starting next week. The biannual meeting, which was delayed for two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, will bring together leaders and government officials from the association’s 54 member states, with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, in attendance.

Rights groups and civil society organizations have said that President Paul Kagame’s government was using the event to project soft power and to market his country on the global stage even as he brooks no dissent at home.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch said that Rwandan authorities had beaten jailed journalists and were holding privileged material from their lawyers. The detainees were part of a wave of journalists, opposition members and YouTube commentators who were arrested after criticizing security forces and speaking about political repression.

“Rwanda is not a safe country,” Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview. In Rwanda, he said, government critics were “risking their lives to speak out about their treatment, but the international community, and particularly the U.K. and the Commonwealth, is choosing to turn a blind eye instead of standing by their values.” He added, “It’s unconscionable for the U.K. to press ahead with this plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.”

Critics of the deportation agreement have said that Rwanda does not hold much regard for the safety of refugees — pointing to how Rwandan security forces were accused of shooting at least 12 Congolese refugees in 2018. Mr. Kagame’s government also has a track record of threatening and targeting dissidents abroad, including abducting and trying the hotelier-turned-dissident Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was made into the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” and who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in Kigali.

“It is inhumane for the U.K. government that stands up for human rights to send refugee seekers back to an environment similar to the one they are fleeing,” Anaïse Kanimba, the daughter of Mr. Rusesabagina, said in an emailed statement.

Cora Engelbrecht reported from London and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.

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