President Kagame outlines the need for a new approach to migration

President Kagame outlines the need for a new approach to migration

The Africa Europe Foundation is this week hosting a discussion forum addressing the issue of migration between Africa and Europe and other key issues in the relationship between the two. It is hoping to facilitate “an open and frank dialogue on key, often contentious, issues between our two continents. The themes are Climate and Energy (January 20), Migration and Mobility (January 27) and Vaccine Access and Equity (February 3).”

President Kagame of Rwanda, speaking at the event stressed the double-edged nature of the issue of immigration and migration: “Migration and mobility have long been at the forefront of the dialogue between Africa and Europe. But the terms of the debate are broken. Dangerous journeys continue to cause loss of life, and empower criminal networks.” The President’s contribution to the event outlined the philosophy behind Rwanda’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers, and his views on the wider issue of the movement of people from Africa into Europe. His argument was that there needed to be much more emphasis on the root causes of migration: “Our starting point”, he said, “is that every young African should be able to lead a dignified, productive and safe life on the African continent, whether in their home country, or elsewhere in Africa.” This also requires that the purely economic migrants are clearly separated from what he described as “those deserving of special protection, who may get lost in the crowd.” This he stressed was in the context of the right of every country to protect themselves and manage their borders as they see fit.  This came in the same week that he reopened the border between Uganda and Rwanda after three years  – exercising exactly the kind of control that he sees as the right of all nations.

Kagame’s comments draw attention to Rwanda’s own record on the migration and refugees. That record is one of the best and most interesting in Africa. Back in 2016 at the Leader’s summit for Refugees, the Government of Rwanda made four central commitments in support of refugee inclusion:

(i)    A joint government of Rwanda-UNHCR “livelihoods strategy” which has the core objective of helping refugees in camps escape from aid dependency and gain independence through employment or starting their own businesses.

(ii)    To do this refugees need ids to open banks accounts, so the government committed to ensuring that all refugees had access to valid government issued refugee identity cards;

(iii)    For children to be able to access employment and business opportunities in the future they need access to education. Rwanda is not a rich country and while it has developed its education system incorporating refugee children will take time, the government committed  that it would get all refugee children of secondary school age into education and that half of those at primary stage would also be given school places;

(iv) In terms of health provision, much is provided in camps but for those refugees who are not in camps but are in urban areas the government committed to allowing them to have access to the national health insurance system.

In the event Rwanda has fulfilled all these commitments and exceeded some. By 2020 all refugee children had access to education in Rwanda however Covid-19 has disrupted schooling. Because all refugees have access to an id card they can be employed, open bank accounts and register businesses. The national health insurance system is open to all registered refugees.

The European Commission has praised the extension of Rwanda’s migrant policy, as outlined in the four commitments,  to asylum seekers who decide to stay. In October 2021, Josep Borrell the EU High Representative/Vice-President European Commission visited Gashora camp in Rwanda which is home to asylum seekers from Libya taken in by the Government of Rwanda. Borrell called the policy “an impressive example of Intra-African solidarity. It’s very moving to see these people here, they are much better than in Libya, they have hope. So we have to thank the Rwandan people and the Rwandan Government for their support.” There are currently 215 asylum seekers in Emergency Transit Mechanism Centre Gashora, a total of 648 refugees and asylums seekers were received from Libya.

President Kagame’s comments on the relationship between Africa and Europe on migration provide a clear signal for the direction of future policy making. They were made in the context of a growing realisation that African can and should be a partner in dealing with the movement of people and is not an adversary. Rwanda’s current policy and record since 2016 suggest a model that could be developed much more widely and hopefully the Africa Europe Foundation meeting will accelerate greater progress towards innovation and collaboration on Europe and African’s shared problems of migrations, refugee management and asylum seeking.