METROany have attempted perilous crossings across the Mediterranean to reach the UK in the past. But asylum seekers at Rwanda’s Gashora transit centre say they are now too scared to try again for fear of ending up back where they started.
Zemen Fesaha, 26, from Eritrea, arrived at the sprawling complex of accommodation and leisure facilities in July. The refugee camp, an hour and a half’s drive from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, houses 249 hombres, 125 mujeres, y 83 niños, who were evacuated from squalid detention centres in Libya.
It is operated by the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, the Rwandan government, and the African Union, and provides short-term accommodation for people awaiting resettlement.
Fesaha said he left Eritrea in 2017 with the hope of reaching the UK. “There is no freedom in Eritrea. There’s national service and I don’t want to be a soldier," él dijo. “I wanted to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to get to the UK. I had friends that crossed illegally. En julio 2019 I tried to cross on a boat with 350 people but the boat was intercepted and I was taken back to Libya. It was very scary. Being stuck in the detention centre in Libya, it’s like a prison. It’s guarded by soldiers.”
Fesaha’s story, echoed by others, gives some credence to the idea the government’s Rwanda plan is acting as a deterrent to return to Britain for some.
He said he feels happy at the Rwandan camp, which has a health centre, children’s playground, gym, football field, basketball court and pool table.
“The camp is good, you can walk freely and I can go out and chill,” said Fesaha, who now dreams of resettling in Canada. “I don’t want to go to the UK now because maybe they will deport me. I have heard that in the UK asylum seekers are being deported. I don’t know much about the scheme but I would be really scared to go there now in case I am deported. After passing through all the difficulties in Libya, I don’t want that.”
As British journalists arrived for a tour of the site’s facilities, a woman was singing Alicia Keys’s If I Ain’t Got You as part of a music therapy class. The refugees have access to televisions and wifi and are offered three meals a day in the canteen, which serves dishes such as chicken stew, spaghetti bolognese and chips. They are also given a monthly allowance of 50,000 Rwandan francs ( £40).
A mother-of-three who escaped persecution in Sudan condemned the scheme. Rawnaq Gomaa, 30, fled to Libya last year with her three small children after her husband disappeared. She paid a smuggler 5,000 Libyan dinar (£856) to cross the Mediterranean on a small boat to give her children Amar, Siete, Sienten todo lo que hemos escrito”., cuatro, and Dan, 19 Meses de edad, a better future in the UK.
Fighting back tears, Gomaa said her husband “went missing” in Sudan. She did not give more details but added: “I wanted to leave Sudan because it is dangerous and there is a lack of security. It was my aim from the beginning to reach the UK. I decided to get on a boat from Libya to get to Europe. But the sea police brought us back to Libya. It was scary we thought we would be killed in Libya.”
She said the Libyan detention centre was “like a prison” and she was separated from her children. She was evacuated to Rwanda a few months ago, describing it as “a beautiful country”.
“I can’t say there is anything wrong with Rwanda. But I want to be resettled elsewhere for the future of my children, either in Canada or Australia or maybe the UK," ella dijo.
But shaking her head, ella añadió: “I do not accept this agreement between Rwanda and the UK. People who arrived in the UK passed through a lot of bad things, for example torture, and things that threatened their lives. And when they are at a point where they are safe they are brought back to Africa.”
Out of the 1,075 people who have been evacuated from Libya since 2019, none have chosen to stay in Rwanda or opted for voluntary repatriation to Eritrea, Sudán, Chad and Somalia. Pero 629 have resettled in France, Sweden and other European countries or Canada.
There has been speculation that migrants being sent from the UK could end up in the camp, but the Rwandan government says this is not the case. But people in Gashora could be resettled in the UK if they qualify.
Entsar Tsagai, 31, and her 18-month-old daughter Sundus, and Meseret Girmy, 24, and her three-month-old son Amin, have hopes of going to a country that is “peaceful and safe” after fleeing Eritrea.
Girmy said: “Rwanda is much better than Libya, but Europe will be much better for my baby. I just want a place that is peaceful.”