The UK-Rwanda asylum deal, marred by legal and financial issues, raises concerns as Rwanda developers admit that Suella Braverman’s “beautiful” flats for deported asylum seekers in Rwanda have been sold to Rwandans, contradicting the former home secretary’s claims.
The then-home secretary toured the Bwiza Riverside Estate in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, last year during an official visit aimed at promoting the UK’s controversial asylum deal with the African country.
While being shown around the estate, Braverman praised the homes as “really beautiful” and said she liked the decor so much that she wanted to hire the interior designer for her own house.
— 18 March 2023.
But an undercover openDemocracy reporter posing as an international investor was told by the developers’ sales team that asylum seekers would not be housed there.
“The houses are for Rwandans and 50% is already sold. So if you say it’s for refugees, I don’t think so,” said the sales adviser at ADHI-Rwanda.
Two separate members of staff at Century Real Estate, which is selling properties in the Bwiza estate, also told openDemocracy’s reporter that the homes were not intended for refugees.
“They are selling them for people who want to own them. They are not fully furnished so I don’t know how they could be used for asylum seekers,” one real estate agent said.
The other told openDemocracy that, contrary to Braverman’s claims, the estate “was not” on a list of potential properties that could house asylum seekers from the UK.
The Rwanda Housing Authority, a government body, says it commissioned ADHI Rwanda to build the Bwiza Riverside Estate in November 2020 and that the project “was designed primarily with first-time homeowners in mind”.
The UK government agreed its Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda in April 2022.
— Suella Braverman at the Bwiza Riverside Estate in Rwanda.
In June, ADHI said the project would “redefine luxury living” and that it had “already captivated the attention of discerning homebuyers and investors alike”.
Real estate agents told openDemocracy that more than half of the 257 housing units have since been sold. Braverman said in March that Rwanda could “resettle many thousands of people” under its agreement with the UK.
The former home secretary was also filmed laying the first bricks at a second housing development in Gahanga, on the outskirts of Kigali, which she described as a “UK-funded” project that would provide 528 homes for asylum seekers.
“Gahanga building project represents a big step forward in Rwanda increasing its already existing capacity to accommodate refugees and provide humanitarian support to thousands of people around the country,” Braverman said in a speech before the groundbreaking ceremony.
— Suella Braverman laying the first bricks of the Gahanga Housing project in Rwanda, 19 March 2023.
Ten months later, it remains unclear if any more bricks have been added to those laid by the former home secretary.
A developer building homes in the same neighbourhood Braverman visited told openDemocracy’s undercover reporter that construction was on hold because the company had run out of cash.
They also said Rwandan ministers had told them that their homes were too expensive to buy for asylum seekers from the UK, but that if they built cheaper units in the future, they would consider buying those.
“[Ministers] asked that when we next develop another area or another estate, we should include homes for low-income earners that cost below 40 million Rwandan Francs (£24,500) and then they can finance them,” the director said.
In a video shared by the Home Office in March, Braveman said that the housing projects she visited were being “supported” by the UK. It is unclear whether this involves financial support.
The UK government says it has paid £240m to Rwanda so far, with a further payment of £50m expected in the 2024/25 financial year. But its plans to deport asylum seekers remain uncertain.
In December, the Supreme Court ruled that the proposals were unlawful because Rwanda is not safe for asylum seekers. The government succeeded last week in passing a bill that would override the court by declaring the country safe in the Commons. But it is yet to face scrutiny from peers in the House of Lords who could reject the proposal.
Neither the Home Office nor the Rwandan government responded to a request for comment.