UK-Rwanda Refugee Plan: Post-Colonialism In Action – OpEd


The United Kingdom and Rwanda signed an asylum cooperation agreement on April 14, 2022, as part of the UK’s New Immigration Plan. The agreement authorizes the UK government to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which is considered a third country in this scenario. Asylum applications would subsequently be handled in accordance with Rwandan national law, with Rwanda considering whether they should stay or go to their home country.

Due to the grave socio-economic conditions in Africa, numerous illegal migrants have crossed Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, since 2021. The United Kingdom proposed this plan to lower the number of individuals illegally crossing the English Channel in quest of a better quality of life. 

While announcing this agreement with Rwanda, then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the British custom of providing legal sanctuary to those who seek it. He also highlighted measures to reduce illegal migration. However, the Rwanda-UK refugee agreement raises questions about the endurance of the neo-imperialism of the UK. As Ukraine refugees were welcomed by the UK government, concerns have arisen about how the UK plan would work in relation to refugees coming from other European countries. Hence, it casts doubts about “human displacement” as a tool of new-imperialism used on low-income countries to eradicate unwanted races from European countries.

Migration as a tool of Neo-Imperialism:

Despite the fact that the UK and Rwanda revealed the refugee agreement with great fanfare, civil society members, including international humanitarian organizations, are questioning the morality of this arrangement. According to the United Nations, this plan is incompatible with global solidarity. Similarly, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that the arrangement violates the standards for asylum-seeker transfers. The UNHCR stated that developed countries should show their support for Rwanda, which already accommodates a large number of refugees, rather than burdening it with more. Despite widespread opposition from civil rights groups, the UK’s Home Secretary went forward and allowed asylum seekers arriving in the country to be deported to Rwanda.

However, this attempt to transfer migrants to a foreign country is not unique; rather, it is part of a larger tactic employed by powerful and developed nations. Many countries, including Australia, Denmark, Spain, Israel, and the European Union (EU), discourage unauthorized immigrants by imposing harsh restrictions. “Human displacement” appears to be a driving force behind neo-imperialism in the twenty-first century, to eradicate unwanted races from European countries. Migration is a political tool for subjugation, not only a product of inequalities, natural disasters, and poverty.

In a similar vein, it is the continuation of a post-colonialist approach in which the UK aims to exploit and subjugate non-European migrants for political reasons. The refugee plan appears to benefit both the United Kingdom and Rwanda. The latter in terms of economic growth, while the former in terms of escalating anti-migrant rhetoric. However, the benefits are unequal. The UK refugee agreement appears to have major repercussions for Rwanda in terms of how it will handle a surge of relocated people. Rwanda’s readiness to accept this agreement demonstrates deeper coercion entrenched in the country’s colonial past, which binds Rwanda into a cycle of loans and foreign investments.

Racism embedded in Migration Policy of the UK:

According to Yolande Makolo, a Rwandan government representative, Rwanda agreed to the agreement because it allows Rwanda to manage the world’s refugee issue. However, the UK’s plan to send vulnerable people to a third country only adds to claims of hypocrisy, as racism is central to this arrangement, which excludes migrants from Somalia, Syria, Libya, Myanmar, and South Sudan but not Ukraine or refugees from other European countries. The idea to move specific migrants from the United Kingdom to East Africa also represents the United Kingdom’s colonial past, which included the transportation of slaves across the continent. In contemporary times, the UK entrusts Africa with short-term financial gains. 

According to the UK government, this agreement was reached to address the problem of human smuggling from Africa. However, in recent weeks, the UK has provided a safe haven to Ukrainian refugees. This demonstrates that the UK immigration policy is racially and religiously discriminatory. If the UK was so concerned about migration, it would not have allowed Ukrainians to settle on its land, and it would not have chosen Rwanda, which has a troubling human rights record while keeping its international obligations in mind.

Clientelist Politics and UK-Rwanda Refugee Plan:

Various countries have done the same action as the UK such as Australia’s arrangements with Papua New Guinea to house asylum seekers on Manus Island. The European Union was also in talks with the government of Niger to establish frontier zones on African soil. These measures of sending unwanted migrants, particularly those from outside Europe to poorer countries are a tactic used by the developed world to extend its political and economic presence in such countries. These states pursue their own geopolitical interests by shifting migration supervision to underdeveloped countries.

Consequently, clientelist politics is still prominent in the Global North, where they provide political or economic support to a patron state in exchange for particular advantages. The UK-Rwanda Refugee Plan represents clientelism because the UK grants Rwanda massive funds to commence this cooperation. Rwanda has long received UK foreign aid, and the UK has vowed to improve Rwanda’s global image as a committed partner in migration governance.

In addition, Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, stressed the UK’s commitment to developing alliances with Africa during the 2020 UK-Africa Summit. As part of its post-Brexit strategy, the UK is investing in Africa’s poorer countries by offering them financial incentives to meet its exclusionary aspirations, thereby making clientelist politics a reality. Despite the fact that the UK’s burgeoning engagement with Africa is presented in terms of development, questions have been raised about the UK’s underlying intentions towards the African continent and human displacement.

Border Imperialism of Europe:

Europe pushes its migration and refugee policies on the Global South. Borders are characterized as a result of this “border imperialism,” becoming intrinsically linked with colonialism and neoliberal politics of exploitation. Border imperialism with racial underpinnings in Europe also calls into question governance structures that define how other countries will be treated within the framework of global imperialism.

Likewise, borders can be defined as a “colonial wound” since migrants are constantly managed and controlled through racialized means. This bordering framework is enacted by the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill and its following offshore agreement to relocate those taking refuge in Rwanda. Through discriminatory enforcement at the bilateral and multilateral levels, this border imperialism forces those seeking asylum into extra-legality and exceptionalism. Furthermore, sending migrants to another country where they do not wish to seek asylum exposes them to more danger and uncertainty. Without a question, these border regulations have already created fear and uncertainty as well as despair for persons seeking asylum who are already in a vulnerable position.

Relocation of non-European Migrants: Control or Diplomacy?

When considered in the framework of Europe’s volatile migration policies, the UK-Rwanda agreement is not an exception. The United Kingdom, like other European states, was confronted with an inflow of displaced persons following the Syrian civil war in 2015. The unfavorable sentiments around receiving these non-European refugees also played a role in the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union via Brexit.

Despite its exit from the EU, the UK maintains a strict stance on border management. The United Kingdom also has discriminatory policies that deny migrants their rights. As a result, in order to dissociate itself from the human displacement of non-European races, the UK is shifting its asylum duties to African countries such as Rwanda. The UK-Rwanda Refugee Plan exacerbates Europe’s xenophobic and racist instincts. It is even more concerning given the outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees in the aftermath of the Ukraine-Russia war. This shows how having a European nationality or origin only confers protection.


To sum up the discussion, migration agreements in Europe have self-interested interests as well as long-term neocolonial objectives. They will not, as Europe claims, resolve immigration concerns. Rather, these agreements provide direct benefits such as aid, economic agreements, and legal channels in exchange for migratory limits. These agreements are part of the Western agenda. However, this has made the EU vulnerable to migration manipulation and compromises migration cooperation. 

Moreover, these racial migratory arrangements disrupt sociopolitical equilibrium, causing tension and disintegration in low-income countries of the Global South. Particularly, UK-Rwanda Refugee Plan poses a dilemma of responsibility and contradicts the United Kingdom’s international obligations. This agreement establishes an example for other governments seeking to use migration as a tool for political motives. It conveys a negative signal to countries in the Global South grappling with refugee influxes.

Whether or not the UK-Rwanda Refugee Plan is executed, the long-term consequences of adopting such practices will aggravate tensions within Europe. It compromises refugee status and weakens African-Europe cooperation. To prevent migrants from entering the country, the United Kingdom has made it apparent that it is willing to off-shore asylum seekers. The agreement also conveys to other countries that these arrangements are feasible, as Denmark has signaled a similar agreement with Rwanda, which will further erode territorial protection.

Furthermore, this can give incentives for both state and non-state entities to exploit migrants as puppets. Rwanda has agreed to the agreement in exchange for political and economic clout. It also aspires to extend its power outside its frontiers. The funds supplied by the United Kingdom will be invested in Rwanda to strengthen social services and infrastructure for its citizens. The UK-Rwandan agreement may potentially exacerbate the weaponization of migrants, as non-European countries such as Rwanda can use funds provided by the UK and other European countries to put pressure on them. 

As a result, African countries in the African Union (AU) have unified in their opposition to Europe’s border management policies. They argue that limits on free movement contradict the AU’s aims. Rwanda has broken away from the AU by signing these migration control agreements with European countries. A possible Denmark-Rwandan agreement, like the UK-Rwanda agreement, is described as xenophobic and an example of colonial domination by the African countries of the AU.

Warda Ghafoor is a research scholar and undergraduate student of International Relations at the National Defence University (NDU) Islamabad, Pakistan. Her scholarly research interest includes geopolitical shifts, foreign policy analysis, post-colonial studies, environment, and the diplomatic correspondence of countries across the world.

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