2022
May
19
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

May 19, 2022
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

Why Afghanistan fell: Report sheds new light

The collapse of Afghanistan last August left the world reeling. How had more than 20 years of investment been undone so quickly? On Wednesday, the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released its investigation, and I talked with our frequent contributor on global security issues, Anna Mulrine Grobe, about it. 

The main takeaway, Anna says, is that the collapse of Afghan security forces was foreseeable, and foreseen. The Taliban were adept at exploiting the situation, but the failure happened well before the advance on Kabul. 

How did so much money and effort do so little? 

  • Corruption. No significant inroads were ever made. The war in Ukraine offers a counterpoint. Anna notes that one reason the Ukrainian army has held up so well is that significant efforts were made in recent years to address corruption. 
  • Hierarchy. Ukraine shows how NATO training can work. But, crucially, Anna notes, that training has empowered mid-level officers to make flexible decisions on the battlefield. In Afghanistan, training was never able to break down persistent hierarchies. 
  • Falling expectations. When it became apparent that Afghan units were not progressing, U.S. trainers simply changed the bar to essentially make that acceptable. The focus was on numbers more than quality. 
  • Secrecy. The U.S. almost completely cut Afghan officials out of its peace negotiations with the Taliban. Many Afghans felt the U.S. was effectively handing the country over to the Taliban upon its withdrawal. That was toxic to morale and became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • The report concludes that the U.S. government didn’t have the will to do the hard work that needed to be done. For Anna’s part, she saw “so many smart minds who were applying themselves to fixing this.” But the lack of trust and honesty gave it no real foundation.

    You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

    Difference-maker

    How ‘Angel of Vorzel’ rescued Ukrainians behind Russian lines

    If war shows humanity at its worst, those who respond to others’ suffering with bravery and selflessness, as Konstantin Gudauskas did evacuating civilians in Ukraine, offer an inspiring counterpoint.

    Mark
    Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science
    Konstantin Gudauskas, a Kazakh citizen living in exile in Ukraine, stands in front of pieces of paper containing the names and details of Ukrainian citizens he rescued from behind Russian lines, in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 30, 2022. Dubbed the "Angel of Vorzel" by some of those he helped to safety from the district of that name, Mr. Gudauskas made risky daily journeys past Russian checkpoints to collect terrified Ukrainian citizens who had often been in hiding for weeks.

    Two ways to read the story

    • Quick Read
    • Deep Read ( 8 Min. )

    Ihor Poklad, a composer awarded the “Hero of Ukraine” medal by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and his wife, Svetlana, a retired teacher of Russian language and literature, were trapped in the basement of their summer home in Vorzel outside Kyiv.

    They were running out of supplies and hope. Russia had invaded, and the fighting was intense. Electricity was cut, the water stopped, phone signals weakened. Then, house to house, the shooting began, turning Vorzel into a zone of horror much like neighboring Bucha.

    “When we heard a gun shoot, we knew someone was being killed,” Svetlana Poklad recalls in an interview in a Kyiv park, still exhibiting signs of stress.

    Help came in the person of Konstantin Gudauskas, dubbed the “Angel of Vorzel” by some of those he rescued.

    Day after day, for weeks, with the help of volunteers who provided bread and cigarettes to buy off Russian troops, Mr. Gudauskas brazenly crossed battle lines to ferry more than 200 civilians to safety.

    He was interrogated at checkpoints, stripped to his underwear, and felt the cold muzzle of a Russian rifle prodding the back of his head.

    “I was asked by the [Russians] all the time, ‘Aren’t you afraid to die?’” Mr. Gudauskas recalls. “I told them, ‘I am afraid to die doing nothing.’”

    How ‘Angel of Vorzel’ rescued Ukrainians behind Russian lines

    Collapse

    The Russian military had turned districts north of Kyiv into killing zones, where neither cars nor Ukrainians could safely pass.

    Yet Konstantin Gudauskas found a path to carry out rescue missions – ferrying civilians out of occupied areas – day after day.

    Along the way, the Kazakh citizen who recently had made his home in Ukraine says he lost five cars to shrapnel, explosions, and direct bullet impacts.

    He was interrogated at checkpoints, stripped to his underwear, and felt the cold muzzle of a Russian assault rifle prodding the back of his head – just a trigger-pull away from death, he says, as he recited Psalm 22 asking for protection from his enemies.

    “I was asked by the [Russians] all the time, ‘Aren’t you afraid to die?’” Mr. Gudauskas recalls about crossing the front lines repeatedly to extract trapped Ukrainians. “I told them, ‘I am afraid to die doing nothing.’”

    The result of those risky daily journeys, mostly to the Kyiv suburb of Vorzel, which witnesses say was subject to the same atrocities as Bucha and Irpin just to the east, is that Mr. Gudauskas saved the lives of 203 Ukrainians by his own careful count, from the start of the Russian invasion, on Feb. 24, through April 1.

    Dubbed the “Angel of Vorzel” by some of those he rescued, Mr. Gudauskas, in his late 30s and with short graying hair, has an unassuming presence. But that is in stark contrast to the powerful stories of resilience, survival, and escape that lie behind the names and details of those he drove to freedom, which he keeps handwritten on pieces of paper stuck to a whiteboard with magnets.

    “I was warned many times, ‘If we see you on the horizon again, we will finish with you,’” he says. “But every time I went, I found many people who wanted to leave, people on their knees begging to be taken away. I wasn’t able to not go there again.”

    Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
    Konstantin Gudauskas makes a phone call in front of pieces of paper with the names and details of 203 Ukrainian citizens he brazenly rescued from behind Russian lines, in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 30, 2022. He says he “was asked by the [Russians] all the time, ‘Aren’t you afraid to die?’”

    On many levels, Mr. Gudauskas’ story reflects the broader trajectory of Ukraine’s increasingly successful, against-all-odds resistance to Russia’s overwhelming firepower.

    Through bravery, resourcefulness, and sheer determination – supported by an ever-widening group of volunteers, who provided humanitarian aid, as well as bread and cigarettes to buy off Russian troops at checkpoints, for example, and to pay for scarce fuel – one man was able to impact hundreds of lives for the better.

    An official letter from deputy Alevtina Kovalchuk of the Bucha Regional Council confirms the rescues from the Bucha region, which includes Vorzel, saying Mr. Gudauskas “risked his life” to save 176 people and bring aid, and that the impact “cannot be overestimated” for thousands of residents. One pregnant woman he evacuated even named her newborn son Konstantin. 

    Love for “freedom spirit”

    Indeed, the success of Mr. Gudauskas’ derring-do was only possible because of a fortuitous combination of three factors. First was his Kazakh passport – and identity cards from his time at university in Russia showing his nationality as “Russian” – that “added up to them trusting me,” he says.

    The second factor – which Mr. Gudauskas describes as a “problem in his life” since childhood, causing him to “walk the edge many times” – was fearlessness, no matter the circumstances.

    The third was his 15 years as a human rights activist in his native Kazakhstan, where opposition politics brought Mr. Gudauskas under the scrutiny of security services. Up to eight people were detailed to watch him before he left for exile in Ukraine in 2019, he says, and under such pressure he “learned to be calm.”

    Mr. Gudauskas was impressed by “moving from a dictatorship” in Kazakhstan to a country where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared to move effortlessly among citizens, and in his 2019 inauguration speech said, “Every one of us is president now.”

    “I fell in love with this freedom spirit,” he says. “I understand why Ukrainians fight not just for the four walls of their house, but for this spirit.”

    So, soon after Mr. Gudauskas, from his Bucha apartment, directly observed Russian airborne troops in late February arriving at Hostomel Airport, he called a former government adviser and asked what he could do. She told him the Russians were hunting down military families, and some needed rescue. She sent names and photos.

    Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
    Svetlana Poklad, a retired Ukrainian teacher of Russian language and literature, describes how she and her husband were rescued in early March, after hiding in the basement of their Vorzel home, by Konstantin Gudauskas, the "Angel of Vorzel," in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 30, 2022.

    By the third day of the war he had evacuated two families, but then the Tesla he was driving took a direct hit from a Russian rocket. Mr. Gudauskas was knocked unconscious, and taken to Kyiv.

    Trapped in Vorzel

    During 10 days of recovery, he spotted a Facebook post about the grim circumstances of Ihor Poklad, a prolific music composer who last December was awarded the “Hero of Ukraine” medal by President Zelenskyy.

    Mr. Poklad, nearing age 80, and his wife, Svetlana, reportedly were trapped in the basement of their summer home in Vorzel and running out of supplies and hope. Mr. Gudauskas vowed to find them.

    Their urgent plight was typical of those in Vorzel needing rescue.

    The fighting above ground was so intense that the older couple, from their basement, learned to differentiate between types of rockets and artillery rounds.

    The electricity was cut. Then water stopped working, and phone signals weakened. Then, as Russian troops began poking around, house to house, the shooting began.

    “When we heard a gun shoot, we knew someone was being killed,” Svetlana Poklad, an elegantly dressed retired teacher of Russian language and literature, recalls in a late April interview in a Kyiv park, still exhibiting signs of stress.

    “First they would kill the dogs that barked at them and gave away their position. Then they just started killing people. … You could be shot for anything,” she says with a raspy, still-exhausted voice. The older couple were alone and “desperation started to come.”

    “Every night we would hear the column of Russian vehicles being destroyed, and the next morning there would be a new column,” says Ms. Poklad. “There were so many of them, like cockroaches.”

    Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
    Ukrainians walk among the rusting remnants of a Russian armored column destroyed by Ukrainian forces and piled up on the outskirts of Bucha, Ukraine, April 20, 2022. Bucha and the neighboring districts of Irpin and Vorzel, northwest of Kyiv, saw similar scenes of destruction and alleged war crimes at the hands of occupying Russian forces.

    The couple’s moment of clarity came one morning when they tried to make a fire. Avid campers, they usually could light a fire with a single match – but that morning it took more than an hour, because of the stress.

    “That’s when we realized that we have to leave, [that] if you stay, you will die,” Ms. Poklad recalls. Their phones were dead, the generator out of fuel, and Mr. Poklad – who previously had undergone two heart surgeries – was finding it “very hard.”

    Ms. Poklad found just enough fuel in a camping lantern to fire up the generator, sufficient to charge four phones to 3% or 4% battery strength, then had to step 50 yards outside to find a signal.

    “We already had bodies on the street, very many of them,” she says. The Russians “never let us bury those bodies. The same things in Bucha were happening in Vorzel.”

    “Like the hand of God”

    She found a signal and learned efforts were underway to save the couple. But reality quickly set in.

    “With each minute, with each hour, our hope was melting,” she says. “We had such euphoria. But we understood that we were under total occupation, that there was no spot where any Ukrainian could come.”

    Then the impossible happened.

    “I saw the red jacket, and saw Kostya passing the window,” she says, using Mr. Gudauskas’ nickname. “I was shocked, but did not fear. From the first look, I could tell that I could trust him. … I consider it a miracle, like the hand of God.”

    They loaded into the car, with their Labrador dog sitting on Mr. Poklad’s “Hero of Ukraine” medal, to hide it. As they departed, they asked Mr. Gudauskas what they should do. He replied, matter-of-factly, “Pray.”

    After their evacuation, the Poklads soon came across another Vorzel couple in distress. Mr. Gudauskas decided to go to the district every day – sometimes twice – to evacuate people unable to escape themselves.

    The Poklads helped, with humanitarian aid and finding candidates for evacuation.

    “Now, I am sure we have one more family member, and that is Kostya,” says Ms. Poklad. “We owe him our lives.”

    Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
    Relatives of Ukrainian Mykola Goncharenko bury him a month and a half after they say he was shot dead and burned in his car by Russian soldiers, at a cemetery in the northwestern Kyiv suburb of Irpin, Ukraine, April 21, 2022. Irpin, along with nearby Bucha and Vorzel, saw similar scenes of destruction and alleged war crimes under Russian occupation.

    Despite Mr. Gudauskas’ unique ability to navigate past Russians, his rescues involved many harrowing moments. The fear of those he took out was at times so severe that “they could not say their names at checkpoints,” he says.

    In one case, he was carrying a 7-year-old girl with a severe shrapnel wound, breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. They were held at a Russian checkpoint for an hour and a half, while the girl sat in the back seat.

    “You are bringing a Bandera. … Let us kill her,” Mr. Gudauskas says one Russian told him, referring to Stepan Bandera, a World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated for a time with Nazi Germany. He replied, “If that were your child, I would go for them, too.”

    They arrived safely in Kyiv, the girl unconscious and with just three minutes of oxygen remaining.

    “I could not help them”

    Other times, the “Angel of Vorzel” was helpless to stop the horror.

    “I saw many times people being shot in the head,” Mr. Gudauskas says. He recalls a family that approached a Russian checkpoint from 200 yards away. The teenage boy was shot dead first, then the father. The mother was caught and severely beaten.

    “The most scary thing is there was nothing I could do at that moment,” he recalls. “I could not help them.”

    He recalls a similar instance, when he took a 20-year-old as a partner to help. They were in two cars. Tears come to Mr. Gudauskas’ eyes as he recounts how Russian soldiers stopped the young man, put a grenade in the hood of his hoodie, and blew him up.

    Mr. Gudauskas says he never lost a passenger in his car, but there were many close calls. He says he has cooperated with Ukrainian and European prosecutors as a witness to crimes, and to identify Russian perpetrators.

    “There were moments when people asked me to take them, but there was no space in the car,” he says. “Next time I went, they were dead.”

    Mr. Gudauskas says he “personally” buried 74 people, and has since helped families and prosecutors to exhume the remains. He is trying to quell talk among locals about naming a Vorzel street after him, or erecting a monument.

    “Just let me be an ‘angel,’” says Mr. Gudauskas. “That’s enough.”

    Reporting for this story was supported by Oleksandr Naselenko.

    Russia and the NATO it didn’t want: A disaster, or ‘no problem’?

    From the outside, it seems that Russia’s war in Ukraine has backfired: uniting Europe against it and expanding NATO to its border. But how are analysts inside Russia seeing it?

    Mark

    Two ways to read the story

    • Quick Read
    • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

    Not so long ago, Russian diplomacy aimed to revise European security architecture to make Ukraine look more like the Finnish example of a buffer zone between East and West.

    Now, the perennially neutral Nordic states of Finland and Sweden have reversed decades of policy and applied for membership in the NATO military alliance.

    Sweden and Finland have integrated with European institutions, including the EU, and hence the actual situation on the ground may not be practically affected by their impending NATO accession. Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested as much, recently arguing that there should be “no problem” as long as the new members of NATO refrain from basing foreign military infrastructure on their soil, especially nuclear weapons.

    But it may not be so simple, Russian experts say. “My own view is that the situation is extremely unfavorable for Russia,” says Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defense journal. “Finland has a long frontier with Russia, and Russian forces in the western military district are currently insufficient to cover that. Sweden is a first-class military power, with a huge network of bases and airfields.”

    Russia and the NATO it didn’t want: A disaster, or ‘no problem’?

    Collapse
    Annti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva/AP
    Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin (top right) attends the meeting of the Finnish government in Helsinki, May 17, 2022. Although the Finnish application to join NATO officially ends the country's neutrality, Finland has had close ties with NATO for many years.

    Amid Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, the perennially neutral Nordic states of Finland and Sweden have reversed decades of policy and applied for membership in the NATO military alliance.

    For Moscow this is, at least on the symbolic level, a disaster.

    Editor’s note: This article was edited in order to conform with Russian legislation criminalizing references to Russia’s current action in Ukraine as anything other than a “special military operation.”

    Not so long ago, Russian diplomacy aimed to revise European security architecture to make Ukraine look more like the Finnish example of a buffer zone between East and West. Now, with Finland ditching its neutrality to join NATO, even Kyiv has dropped talk it had earlier in the conflict of compromising on the issue of joining NATO. So profound is the geopolitical shift underway that Switzerland, which is often cited in dictionary definitions of “neutrality,” has indicated that it might revise its historical stance under the present circumstances.

    Whatever the outcome of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, many analysts say Moscow faces decades of isolation in a Europe solidly united against it.

    “If in the past there were reasons to speculate about a divergence between the [European Union] and NATO, now it looks like they go hand in hand, at least for the foreseeable future,” says Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, which is affiliated with the Foreign Ministry. “If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s idea was to put an end to NATO expansion, it clearly wasn’t very effective.”

    A long frontier with Russia

    After talking with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö recently, Mr. Putin surprised many by arguing that things needn’t be that bad. Indeed, he said, there should be “no problem,” as long as the new members of NATO refrain from basing foreign military infrastructure on their soil, especially nuclear weapons. Both Finland and Sweden have long been very capable exemplars of “armed neutrality,” maintaining de facto cooperation with the West in security and intelligence matters, and the actual military balance needn’t change, he suggested.

    “Putin said that Russia doesn’t see any fresh threats, but will monitor the appearance of any new infrastructure and react accordingly,” says Igor Korotchenko, editor of the Moscow-based National Defense journal. “My own view is that the situation is extremely unfavorable for Russia. Finland has a long frontier with Russia, and Russian forces in the western military district are currently insufficient to cover that. Sweden is a first-class military power, with a huge network of bases and airfields.”

    Fredrik Sandberg/TT/AP/File
    Swedish ships participate in a military exercise in Berga, Sweden, Oct. 27, 2021. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin said that there would be consequences if Finland and Sweden join NATO, he has since said their memberships would be "no problem," so long as the alliance doesn't station new bases and weaponry within their borders.

    Sweden has been mostly neutral for over 200 years, even navigating World War II and the Cold War without changing its status.

    Finland is a more complicated case. It was invaded by the USSR in 1939, and fought a bitter “Winter War,” which dealt severe damage to Soviet forces before Finland was compelled to cede territory. Defeated again in 1945, Finland adopted an official policy of non-alignment and spent the next several decades walking a careful foreign policy line between the USSR, later Russia, and the West.

    In practice, however, Finland has integrated with European institutions, including the EU, and hence the actual situation on the ground may not be practically affected by its impending NATO accession.

    Still, the geostrategic map is going to look radically different as Finland and Sweden move into NATO.

    “The Baltic Sea will become, effectively, a NATO lake,” says Mr. Kortunov. “The border between Russia and NATO will basically double,” as Finland’s 800-mile frontier becomes, at least theoretically, a confrontation line. “In the Arctic Council, it will now be seven NATO members against Russia.”

    It remains to be seen what model of NATO integration Finland and Sweden will adopt, Russian analysts say. Some northern European members of NATO, such as Norway and Iceland, eschew foreign bases on their territories, while others, like Poland and the Baltic states, enthusiastically embrace NATO deployments.

    Jacob Turcotte/Staff

    In a May 14 telephone conversation between Mr. Putin and Mr. Niinistö, the Russians may have been assured that Finland will take the former route, says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal.

    “Finland probably won’t want to host foreign military bases, much less nuclear weapons. So it’s possible that not much will have to change in practical terms,” he says.

    “This issue of Ukraine is special”

    Russian analysts say that the threat of Ukraine joining NATO posed a qualitatively different challenge for Moscow, paving the path to conflict, due to the country’s proximity to the Russian heartland, its big Russian-speaking population, and historical ties. Perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin has seen an aggressive nationalist threat in Ukraine since the 2014 Maidan revolution overthrew a Russia-friendly government and replaced it with a pro-Western one in Kyiv. Russia’s failure to secure Ukrainian neutrality is just one of the causes of the current crisis, they say.

    “This issue of Ukraine is special,” says Mr. Lukyanov. “After all, Russia has accepted the entry of many others into NATO over the years. We may not have liked the idea of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, etc., joining the alliance, but it did not provoke war. It’s a similar situation with Finland and Sweden. This [war] is about Ukraine specifically.”

    But some Russian officials claim that there is a wider, long-term scheme to isolate and undermine Russia now being brought to fruition. Ukraine was inducted into that plan following the Maidan revolution, offered political and military support and seduced with promises of NATO membership and European integration, they say, adding that the inevitable confrontation with Russia is currently being manipulated by Washington to achieve long-held strategic goals in Europe.

    “The U.S. is using this Ukraine situation to expand its influence,” says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament. “It’s about much larger things than Ukraine. The U.S. has long wanted Finland and Sweden to abandon neutrality in order to master the Arctic. This is about the bigger picture, and the confrontation in Ukraine is just an instrument that is being exploited to the hilt.”

    Jacob Turcotte/Staff

    The UK wants to send refugees to Rwanda. Is that legal?

    Can a government outsource its duty of care for asylum-seekers? Britain is trying, and Rwanda is offering – for a price – to process and settle refugees applying for British protection.

    Mark
    Felly Kimenyi
    Burhan Almerdas and his wife, Sanaa Almerdas, in their cafe in Kigali, Rwanda. The couple fled war-torn Yemen and were granted refugee status in Rwanda in 2019.

    Two ways to read the story

    • Quick Read
    • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

    Worried that Britain’s political asylum system cannot cope with the number of people seeking protection, Boris Johnson’s government has taken an unusual and highly controversial route.

    London has done a deal with Rwanda, whereby asylum-seekers would be sent to the East African country, and Rwandan officials would decide whether they deserve refugee status. If granted refugee status, they could stay in Rwanda but never go to the United Kingdom.

    It is not clear whether this is legal: Britain has signed refugee protection conventions that oblige London to allow migrants to make their case for protection. It is not clear whether it is workable: Over 28,000 people arrived in Britain illegally by boat last year. Does Rwanda have the resources to process, house, and employ that many people every year?

    And it’s not clear that it would be safe for the refugees; just last year the British ambassador for human rights regretted that its government had refused to carry out “credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.”

    Despite such doubts, Britain is not the only country taking this path. Denmark too is negotiating with Rwanda to outsource its migrant problem, rather than deal with it at home.

    The UK wants to send refugees to Rwanda. Is that legal?

    Collapse

    When the U.K. government last month announced a deal to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda for processing and resettlement, officials said the extreme measure was intended to “fix the broken asylum system.”

    It may not get the chance. The plan has triggered widespread condemnation in Britain, with critics branding it inhuman and unworkable, and it is already facing legal challenges.

    More than 4,000 miles away, many citizens in Rwanda also object. But their complaints spring from a different perspective: By taking in and housing migrants, the government would be prioritizing the newcomers over Rwandans.

    The reactions in both the United Kingdom and Rwanda go to the heart of some of the quandaries presented by the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill. The new policy also underscores the contrast between the way migrants from Europe are welcomed to Britain and the way those from Africa and the Middle East – who will make up the majority affected by the bill – are treated.

    More than 50,000 Ukrainians have been offered humanitarian visas and free housing in Britain over the past three months.

    Even on a continent grappling with a backlash against surging migrant numbers in recent years, the new U.K. policy stands out for its hard-line stance. 

    Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, has branded the plan “the very height of irresponsibility” that “shows how far from humanity and reality the government is.”

    “What they’re doing is unprecedented in so-called Western democracies,” says Paul O’Connor, a civil servant with the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has brought a case against the U.K. government. “This is being driven entirely by racism. It’s not a rational response to asylum and immigration policy.” 

    Despite the criticisms, the British government has moved fast to implement its policy. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the government is notifying 50 individuals that they will be transferred to Rwanda by the end of May. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Rwandan government said the country is preparing to accept the first batch of asylum seekers.  

    Seeking jobs or protection?

    The government says the new policy will deter those who make risky journeys to Britain, and put people smugglers out of business. Under the deal, those deemed to have arrived in the U.K. unlawfully, in small boats, or hidden in trucks, crossing the English Channel, for example, will be sent to Rwanda. There, Rwandan officials will hear their asylum claims.

    Successful claimants would be given refugee status in the East African country. Britain will pay Rwanda $210 million to fund education, housing, skills training, and language lessons for them. The Rwandan government has promised they would be “entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrollment in healthcare and social care services.”

    Those not granted asylum would be given the option to claim protection in a different country or be sent back to the country they had fled.

    Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP
    British Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta walk together at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 19, 2022. Her plan to outsource the processing of refugees to Rwanda has sparked fierce debate.

    U.K. Interior Minister Priti Patel has said that 90% of those entering the U.K. illegally are not genuine refugees, but rather single men seeking economic opportunities. But an analysis by the Refugee Council, a respected British charity, found last year that almost two-thirds of those who crossed the channel did qualify for refugee status in the U.K.

    Britain’s Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda, along with a similar deal that Denmark is negotiating with the government there, represents a major break with international norms established since the end of World War II.

    Specifically, scholars say, the U.K. deal breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, since it singles out for removal to Rwanda those migrants who have entered the U.K. illegally. The convention, recognizing that most refugees have no choice but to travel irregularly, prohibits governments from penalizing them for doing so.

    A law passed last year in Denmark, paving the way for its current talks, “risks undermining the foundation of the international protection system for the world’s refugees,” the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, warned.

    Jacob Turcotte/Staff

    Who gets priority?

    Nestled in emerald green hills in the center of the continent, Rwanda’s 13 million citizens already live in one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. 

    Moses Muhoza, a builder in Kigali, feels that the pact casts Rwanda in a good light as a welcoming nation, but worries about being left behind. 

    “It appears as though our leaders are caring more for other people at the expense of the citizens. Commodity prices have shot up, there is limited work, rent is expensive,” says Mr. Muhoza, who earns about $10 a day. “I feel that we [Rwandans] should be prioritized.”

    The government says locals and refugees will all gain, since U.K. funding will create jobs, particularly in the tech sector, for both groups. “These people will not live in camps but within communities and benefits will go towards everyone – migrants and citizens,” says Yolande Makolo, a government spokeswoman.

    Felly Kimenyi
    Sanaa Almerdas (right) shares a light moment with young customers at the family's cafe in Kigali, Rwanda. Refugees from Yemen given protection by the Rwandan government, the Almerdas family has settled comfortably in the capital, Kigali.

    Still, Frank Habineza, a vocal opposition member of Parliament, says Rwanda has no good reason to sign such an agreement.

    “We are neither bigger nor richer than the U.K. There is pressure on natural resources and it is likely to bring conflict,” he says. 

    The economic windfall that will come from the U.K. deal, Mr. Habineza says, is “not clean money. Rwanda is being complicit in human rights violations by the U.K.,” he adds. 

    In London, on the other hand, activists are concerned that the deal could land refugees in a country that is itself beset by allegations of human rights abuses by President Paul Kagame’s administration. 

    Mr. Johnson has brushed off such worries, calling Rwanda “one of the safest countries in the world.” But just last year, his ambassador for human rights, Rita French, regretted at the U.N. Human Rights Council that its government had refused to carry out “credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.”

    In the early years of his tenure, Mr. Kagame was feted by the West as he stabilized and rebuilt a country shattered by genocide. But two decades on, critics have accused his government of becoming increasingly authoritarian, and of ordering political assassinations both at home and abroad.

    Mr. Habineza, the opposition politician, once felt obliged to withdraw from a presidential election after his vice presidential running mate was killed and beheaded.

    Details to follow …

    Much is still unclear about how exactly the refugee deal would work in practice. “We are still working out the operational details,” says Ms. Makolo, the government spokeswoman.

    One uncertainty concerns the numbers of refugees who would be processed in Rwanda. Mr. Johnson has said that an “unlimited” number of people could be relocated. Rwanda will have “the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead,” he said the day the deal was unveiled.

    On Thursday, government officials showed off three reception centers where they said asylum-seekers will be housed, with a capacity of 722 beds. Last year, according to British government figures, over 35,000 people entered the U.K. irregularly, 28,526 of them by boat.

    “We are jointly assessing with the U.K. at every step how many are to be sent,” Ms. Makolo explained.

    To be sure, Rwanda has a long history of welcoming refugees. Mr. Kagame, who himself grew up in a refugee camp, has overseen one of the continent’s most inclusive resettlement programs. A fraction of the U.K. in population and size, Rwanda already hosts some 130,000 refugees – almost the same as Britain.

    Burhan Almerdas is among them. Before fleeing Yemen in 2019, he knew nothing about Rwanda. Now, he runs a successful restaurant business in an up-market district of the capital where he and his wife have resettled. “I know many … do not want to come because they would rather prefer a good European lifestyle,” he says.

    “But if you are looking for a place where you can make a living for your family in relative safety,” he adds, “then this is the place to be.”

    Felly Kimenyi contributed reporting to this article from Kigali, Rwanda.

    Jacob Turcotte/Staff

    Essay

    I’m up a tree, and I like it

    Our essayist reconnects with something he loved as a child – tree-climbing – and muses on the magic that happens among the branches.

    Mark
    Linda Bleck

    Two ways to read the story

    • Quick Read
    • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

    Do children still climb trees?

    When I was a kid, I couldn’t stay out of them. Sometimes friends would join me in the sycamore by our house. Or (with her permission) Mrs. DiMarco’s peach tree, where we could sit shoulder-to-shoulder on a bough, munching the sweet fruit.

    To climb a tree was to enter a different world. A tree was, by turns, a fortress, a pirate ship, or a mountain redoubt.

    The question lingers: Do kids still climb trees?  

    The campus of the university where I teach is lovingly landscaped with trees. Recently, while out walking, I found myself ducking under the limb of an immense spruce. Ducking? If I had to duck, I could reach. Why not? 

    I grabbed the thing and scrabbled up the trunk. A moment later I was sitting on a bough. Memories came flooding back. The old sycamore, the friends, the reluctance to return to earth.

    Lost in thought, I didn’t hear the student calling to me from below. He asked what I was doing. I did not explain.

    “Come on up,” I said. “The air’s fine.” But he only laughed, waved me off, and continued on his way. 

    He didn’t know what he was missing.

    I’m up a tree, and I like it

    Collapse

    Do children still climb trees?

    When I was a kid, many decades ago, I couldn’t stay out of them. A sycamore grew in front of my home. At the age of 10 I was just tall enough to reach its lowest branch and hoist myself into its embrace. Standing on that first limb, I was able to reach the others and monkey my way up, up into the loftier recesses until, taking in all of my neighborhood from on high, I wondered if this is what it felt like to be a king.

    I wasn’t the only climber. Sometimes two or three of my friends would join me in the sycamore, or in the maple down the street. Or (with her permission) Mrs. DiMarco’s gnarled old peach tree, some of whose stout horizontal branches allowed us to sit shoulder-to-shoulder, munching on the achingly sweet fruit, moaning with delight as the juice flowed down our chins.

    Climbing trees allowed us to enter another world. In fact, it was a world within a world: We took our imaginations with us into those heights, which by turns were a fortress, a pirate ship, a spaceship, or a mountain redoubt. One summer, we spent so much time in the sycamore that my dad rigged a rope-and-pulley system with an attached basket, so my mom could send ham sandwiches and Twinkies to us on the wing. (There are few things as pleasurable as eating a Twinkie while aloft in a tree.)

    Having related these memories, I still have the question: Do kids still climb trees? In my small Maine town there are some lovely maples, lindens, and oaks, their branches spread wide, open for business. But I have not yet seen a taker. Perhaps computer games have supplanted tree climbing, or maybe the activity went the way of monkey bars, which came to be viewed as too risky and have largely disappeared from playgrounds. 

    It is a sad loss. I have always believed that, since low-hanging limbs provide no benefit to the tree, they must be meant for the child. Robert Frost understood this when he wrote:

    When I see birches bend to left and right

    Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

    I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

    My only disagreement with Frost is his inference that tree climbing is a gender-
    specific undertaking. Both boys and girls have what it takes to make a joyful ascent (my kid sister will attest to this). 

    Kids in general instinctively know what they are capable of: their agility, energy, and strength, disproportionate to their size, are distinct advantages over us lumbering and risk-averse adults, who are more inclined to conjure a reason not to climb that tree.

    The campus of the university where I teach is lovingly landscaped with all sorts of trees, some of great age. During a recent walk, I found myself ducking under the limb of an immense spruce. Ducking? If I could duck, I could reach. So why not? 

    I grabbed the thing, used my feet to scrabble my way up the trunk – none of this as easy as it once was – and a moment later was sitting on a bough. Then the memories came flooding back. The old sycamore, the friends, the long view of my neighborhood, the Twinkies, and finally, the reluctance to return to earth when the parental call to supper came.

    I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t hear the student calling to me from below. He asked what I was doing. I didn’t waste time on explanations. “Come on up,” I said. “The air’s fine.” But he only laughed, waved me off, and continued on his way. 

    He didn’t know what he was missing. 

    Other headline stories we’re watching

    (Get live updates throughout the day.)

    The Monitor's View

    Walls start to fall in Northern Ireland classrooms

    Two ways to read the story

    • Quick Read
    • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

    A generation after the Good Friday Agreement ended one of the world’s longest sectarian conflicts, Northern Ireland’s carefully balanced calm is showing signs of strain.

    A ballot victory early this month by the political party Sinn Féin marked the first time in a hundred years that those who seek to unite the province, formally part of Britain, with the rest of Ireland are poised to lead. Then a bill in the British Parliament offering amnesty for perpetrators of violence during three decades of “the Troubles” caused an outcry. At the same time, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has exacerbated economic fears for the province.

    Those fault lines, however, mask social trends that show a society forging deeper bonds of unity. One measure is a groundswell of public support for integrated schools that teach children about the shared history, language, and values of their rival religious communities.

    “It’s not just about the pupils,” Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis noted recently. “It’s also about the parents. The more time we spent together, the more time you realize the cliché is true – that we always have far more in common than ever divides us.”

    Walls start to fall in Northern Ireland classrooms

    Collapse
    AP
    Boys at an integrated school in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, participate in a project in 2013.

    A generation after the Good Friday Agreement ended one of the world’s longest sectarian conflicts, Northern Ireland’s carefully balanced calm is showing signs of strain.

    A ballot victory early this month by the political party Sinn Féin marked the first time in a hundred years that those who seek to unite the province, formally part of Britain, with the rest of Ireland are poised to lead. Since then, however, the ousted Democratic Unionist Party has blocked the formation of a new government.

    Then earlier this week, a bill in the British Parliament offering amnesty for perpetrators of violence during three decades of “the Troubles” caused an outcry. Northern Ireland has never had a systemic vetting of past atrocities.

    At the same time, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has exacerbated economic fears for the province. (Ireland remains in the EU.) Political division over Brexit was partly to blame last year for the worst sectarian riots in a generation. Catholic and Protestant communities remain divided by segregated housing and an estimated 116 “peace walls.”

    Those fault lines, however, mask social trends that show a society forging deeper bonds of unity. One measure is a groundswell of public support for integrated schools that teach children about the shared history, language, and values of their rival religious communities.

    For the main political parties, “keeping schools religiously segregated means keeping their own communities, identities, and vote base intact,” Abby Wallace, a university student in Belfast, wrote in The Guardian recently. “But these divisions are already broken and outdated, and don’t represent young people in Northern Ireland today. Every year, more young people are ditching sectarian labels, which no longer reflect the subtleties of how we define ourselves. Those engaging in violence are a minority.”

    Integrated schooling has found either currency or curiosity in a number of societies emerging from conflict, such as Rwanda, South Africa, and Israel. In Northern Ireland, education was segregated on the basis of religion when the province was formally incorporated into Britain in 1921. The first integrated school was started in 1980. But the idea – and the development of curricula based on “principles of inclusion, respect, trust, and cross-cultural critique of alternative world views,” as a study noted last month – has gained momentum more recently.

    Parents are driving the demand. Northern Ireland now has just 68 integrated schools. They reach just 7% of youth and represent a small fraction among more than a thousand schools that are predominantly or exclusively Catholic or Protestant. But they reflect a broader view of a society outgrowing past divisions. A survey by the polling firm LucidTalk last August found that 79% of adults believe that all schools should “aim to have a religious and cultural mix of its pupils, teachers, and governors.”

    That support marks a dividend of the peace accord. Adults who grew up in an era of conflict and segregation now mix at work. That exposure has helped them discover common humanity across sectarian boundaries and recognize the value of integration in their children’s education. That insight is driving a shift in policy. In March the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a bill requiring the government to promote integration in all public schools.

    “It’s not just about the pupils,” Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis noted recently. “It’s also about the parents. The more time we spent together, the more time you realize the cliché is true – that we always have far more in common than ever divides us.”

    A Christian Science Perspective

    About this feature

    Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

    Rejoicing in our perfect place

    • Quick Read
    • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

    Struggling to land a position in a competitive job market, a woman turned to God for inspiration. The realization that we have an eternal purpose and place as God’s loved children changed her outlook on the situation – which ultimately culminated in a job that was a perfect fit.

    Rejoicing in our perfect place

    Collapse
    Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

    After I graduated from college, I was applying for elementary school teaching jobs at a time and in a location where there were about 100 applicants for every teaching job. Throughout the spring and summer, I had numerous interviews that went well. Over and over again, however, the principal would call me later and tell me that he or she felt I had a promising future as a teacher, but that an experienced teacher had been hired instead.

    I’m not going to lie: It was hard not to be discouraged! But throughout those months, I prayed regularly, which led to wonderful lessons that have continued to bless my life and work ever since.

    For instance, one of the Bible verses I prayed with daily reminded me, “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isaiah 43:21). And the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, states simply, “Man is the expression of God’s being” (p. 470).

    I reasoned that if individual identity is the expression of the Divine, then our purpose and true employment is to express God’s qualities in useful ways. In short, our identity, purpose, and employment are entirely spiritual, forever upheld by God. We are created to express God’s good, purposeful nature. Therefore, no one can ever be without purpose or place. We are forever employed by God to show forth His praise.

    So I consciously tried to find opportunities each day to be a blessing to others – to actively express kindness, patience, unselfishness, and thoughtfulness. I soon found every day filled with these opportunities.

    As the school year began, I called a Christian Science practitioner to pray with me. When I told him about the calls from school principals letting me know that they had hired someone else, he asked me a simple question: “And do you rejoice that others are being blessed?”

    That simple question taught me a huge lesson. The spiritual facts about identity, purpose, and employment that I had been claiming for myself were also the facts about everyone else. The blessings of God-given purpose and employment are for all of us.

    This is not to say God is like some master chess player in the sky assigning college acceptances, jobs, houses, or companionship. Instead, the place that God keeps us is the “secret place of the most High” (Psalms 91:1) – the consciousness of His presence and power, the very kingdom of heaven.

    The Lord’s Prayer includes the promise of God’s kingdom as sovereign on “earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The activity of the Christ – the eternal manifestation of divine Truth – impels the expression of God’s presence, power, and goodness in our lives. It may be evidenced in a job, home, or whatever the need is, but these material blessings are only hints of the infinite promise of our place in God’s kingdom.

    One day, it occurred to me that someday I would look back on this time of spiritual progress with tremendous gratitude for everything I was learning. And I asked myself if anything external really needed to change in order to express that thankfulness. The desire to gratefully acknowledge right then – not just “someday” – the wonderful spiritual lessons I was learning brought great freedom and joy to my life.

    As the school year started, I signed up to substitute teach, an option that felt like a bit of a failure at first. But each day of subbing brought new lessons and increased my confidence in relying on God in every situation.

    Within a few weeks, I was offered a full-time position at a school where they were creating an additional class because of larger-than-expected enrollment. Everything about the job – the school, the other teachers, the location – was a perfect fit for me.

    Even now, long after my teaching career has ended, I continue to celebrate the spiritual blessings and progress this experience brought.

    Each of us can pray each day to recognize that our identity and employment are to show forth God’s praise. And as we strive to live this spiritual fact, we experience more concretely the sense of purpose and right activity inherent in all of God’s children.

    Viewfinder

    A field of color

    Luca Bruno/AP
    A woman takes pictures as she stands in a large field of poppies in Premenugo di Settala near Milan, May 19, 2022.

    A look ahead

    Thank you for joining us. Please come back tomorrow for a Q&A with an organization providing fresh produce to those who would have shopped at Tops market in Buffalo, which was closed by last weekend’s shooting. It’s one way the community is helping one another.

    More issues

    2022
    May
    19
    Thursday

    Give us your feedback

    We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.