'Don't send them to a dictatorship': Daughter of tortured Hotel Rwanda hero demands end to 'unconscionable' migrant plan

14 November 2023, 14:19 | Updated: 14 November 2023, 15:01

James O'Brien speaks to Carine Kanimba, whose father is the subject of the film 'Hotel Rwanda'

By Will Taylor

The adopted daughter of the hero depicted in Hotel Rwanda has urged Britain against sending migrants to the East African state which she says is ruled with an "iron fist".

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Carine Kanimba branded Rwanda a dictatorship just one day before the Supreme Court will deliver its ruling on whether the deportation plan is legal.

Paul Rusesabagina, her adoptive father, was kidnapped after landing in the capital, Kigali, in 2020 and she says he was tortured before finally being released earlier this year.

He is famous for sheltering scores of Hutu and Tutsi refugees at a hotel in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. That was immortalised in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, in which he was played by US star Don Cheadle.

Read more: Cabinet demands Rishi Sunak quit European Rights Treaty if government fails to get Rwanda plan through courts

Rusesabagina is living in the US after the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, commuted his sentence.

But Kanimba has told LBC she was "absolutely shocked" to learn that Britain is trying to send vulnerable asylum seekers who arrive illegally when the government should know about its authoritarianism.

"Rwanda is a dictatorship, there is one man in power who's been in power for almost 30 years and plans to be in power for another 10 years," she told LBC's James O'Brien.

Paul Rusesabagina was detained by the Rwandan government
Paul Rusesabagina was detained by the Rwandan government. Picture: Alamy

"He rules with an iron fist - there are no freedoms in Rwanda. And what happened to my father, his kidnapping, across international borders, and sham trial and torture, is an example of the type of country that is ruled by this government."

She added: "I would ask [British politicians] to have humanity, and to not send vulnerable people, and vulnerable refugees, to a dictatorship."

Read more: Rishi's back to the future Cabinet: David Cameron joins Sunak's top team amid row with Tory right

Rusesabagina, who had become a prominent critic of Kagame, was duped into flying to Dubai then boarding a jet that was ostensibly headed for Burundi, which instead landed in Rwanda.

He said he was tortured after being detained, and was then charged with leading a group that financed terror in Rwanda.

Kagame even boasted about capturing him, lauding the operation that tricked him into flying to East Africa, before finally releasing him in March.

Rusesabagina was portrayed by Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda
Rusesabagina was portrayed by Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda. Picture: Alamy

That followed negotiations with the Biden government in the US and a letter from Rusesabagina in which he asked for a pardon so he could be released and "spend the remainder of my days in the United States in quiet reflection".

He had campaigned against the Kagame government since the release of Hotel Rwanda, which depicted his heroism in sheltering more than 1,200 people as the genocide raged in 1994.

Critics of the Rwanda policy have pointed to Kagame's long rule and his government's abuses, like Rusesabagina's arrest, to emphasise why people should not be sent there.

The Supreme Court will reveal on Wednesday whether it will overturn a previous court ruling that migrants should not be deported to Rwanda because it is not a safe country.

Sunak has made sending migrants to Kagame's Rwanda one of his main policies
Sunak has made sending migrants to Kagame's Rwanda one of his main policies. Picture: Alamy

"The decision to send vulnerable people, refugees, here in the United Kingdom, to a country that the United Kingdom knows very well is a dictatorship, abusing the rights of its own people, is absolutely unconscionable," Kanimba said.

She claimed she had been followed by government agents because Kagame's government "goes after anybody who dares to speak out against the regime".

She said Magnitsky sanctions, designed to target individuals - such as those imposed on Russian government figures - should be introduced.

Lawyers for the UK government have argued there is a "serious and pressing need" for the Rwanda migrant plan, and that the country will act as a deterrent against small boat crossings because it is so unattractive to people.

They say anyone sent there will be protected by an agreement made with Kagame.

Sunak has made ending the migrant boat crossings one of his top priorities.

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