KIGALI (Reuters) – The hostel in Rwanda where Britain plans to send migrants under its controversial asylum-seeker deportation policy is preparing to house children, its manager said, with the prospect of youngsters being sent there with their parents.
Under an agreement struck in April, Britain will send tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on its shores illegally more than 4,000 miles (6,4000 km) to the East African country.
The Hope Hostel, where the asylum seekers will stay for about nine months after they arrive, is currently building a mini football pitch and a basketball court.
Elisee Kalyango, the manager of the hostel, told reporters the sports facilities are being built so children can be housed at the centre. During a visit there organised by the British government, he said they might buy outdoor toys to put on the grass nearby.
“We are ready to accept all ages,” Kalyango told reporters travelling with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Rwanda for the Commonwealth summit.
The British government’s plan to send some migrants to Rwanda has been criticized by the opposition, charities and religious leaders who say it is inhumane. The government argues it is necessary to smash the business model of people-smuggling networks.
Britain has previously said no unaccompanied children will be deported to Rwanda, but the prime minister’s spokesman on the visit refused to rule out sending children to the facility with their parents.
“We prepare for all eventualities, and you can see we have prepared properly,” he said.
The spokesman said the deportation policy would primarily impact male adults because they account for 90% of the asylum seekers who make the journey across the Channel on small boats.
Johnson, asked by Reuters on Thursday if he would visit detention centres in Rwanda earmarked for asylum seekers from Britain, said he was “flat out” and would not be able to.
Hope House had been home to a group of orphans of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, but they have been moved out for the arrivals from Britain.
Kalyango said about 20 people are employed to work at the hostel even though they do not currently have visitors.
On his way to Rwanda for the Commonwealth summit, Johnson said Ukrainian refugees faced being sent to Rwanda if they travelled to Britain illegally. Previously, he has said the prospect of Ukrainian refugees being sent to Rwanda “was simply not going to happen”.
($1 = 0.8145 pounds)
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Hugh Lawson)