deportation station

I can’t say I ever thought I’d be able to check ‘deportation’ off of my growing collection of interesting life experiences, but there’s a first time for everything! After two+ weeks of struggling with immigration officers, the final word on my visa application was an uncompromising “you have 15 days to leave.”

Any visitor, no matter how long or short their stay, must apply for a single entry, 30 day visa in advance of arriving in Rwanda. After this, and only once in country, can you apply for a longer term visa for whatever your needs – tourism, volunteer, intern, or work.

A perfect storm of events has been occurring, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which was the deciding factor in my exiled fate. Every expat has their own visa story, ranging from easy peasy to destined for deportation. Some nationalities and some organizations seem to breeze through the process and others not. When dealing with second and third languages, it’s hard to get to the bottom of the issue, and the rules and procedures definitely lack clarity.

Having commiserated with several expats and having made several calls to the immigration office over the last few weeks, I still can’t pinpoint exactly what higher-level changes have led the recent crack down on immigration. It could be a reaction to First World governments becoming ever critical of the country’s reported dealings in the Congo. (You can read more about that – and the country at large – here). Or it could be that Canada slashed financial aid to Rwanda in the CIDA – DFATD merger, and, well, neglected to inform Rwanda, leaving them somewhat (and understandably) a little bitter to our folk. The Canadian government also recently refused 4 Rwandan ministers entry to Canada for the September 28 Rwanda Day in Toronto – not exactly the best show of diplomacy.

Or, it could just be a symptom of the Rwandan government’s recent strides in developing the local economy through training and hiring locally, thus guaranteeing jobs for Rwandans – something Western governments have long engaged in, and the reason hundreds of thousands are regularly refused entry to our own country.

Whatever the reasons, after several trips and many, many hours spent in immigration offices in Kigali and Muhanga, I was officially given the boot. I had applied first for an intern visa, then a volunteer visa, then a work visa, and was finally denied for good on the grounds that my skills, experience, and education aren’t covered under the ‘List of Occupations in Demand” – a document I have become very familiar with over the past two weeks.

It’s a tough predicament. On one hand, why shouldn’t the government protect its own citizens and ensure their employment over foreigners’? I’m sure there are dozens if not more youth qualified in political science, gender, and development. On the other hand, the longer-term project that I’m a part of is funded by the Canadian government, and at least part of their aim in funding such projects is to create jobs for Canadians – whether managing or implementing. It’s a Catch-22: The Rwandan government wants to cut out foreign labour while maintaining foreign funding, and the Canadian government funds with Canadian interests in mind. And at the end of the day the little guy (me) is caught in the middle.

So, today was the cumulation of two weeks of stress and uncertainty as I tried to navigate and negotiate a complicated political landscape and immigration process. On the bright side, it’s resulted in an impromptu trip to Uganda, where I was greeted by the familiar face of a fellow CCAer, Cathy, living in Kampala and working with financial and agricultural cooperatives here. Cathy has been here for six weeks – as long as I have been in Rwanda – and has been amazing in helping me relocate.

Hopefully Uganda will be a temporary refuge while we (CCA, UGAMA, and I) regroup and try to find a solution with the Rwandan government. The next steps are unclear, but for now the plan is to continue working for UGAMA from Kampala while learning from the expertise and work of the local partner cooperatives. Fortunately for me, UCA, the local partner cooperative, has a well-developed gender program that includes many of the things I’d like to implement in Rwanda. If nothing else, it will be a great opportunity to learn from their initiatives while soaking up a little Ugandan culture.

On the agenda this weekend: Relaxing in Cathy’s good company, catching a very rare solar eclipse in Uganda’s Northern region, and, on the suggestion of Martin, the amazingly friendly UCA driver who picked me up today, tomorrow I will try fried grasshoppers! Yum!

6 thoughts on “deportation station

  1. Hi Bonnie. That whole experience sounds like it was extremely frustrating, but at least you have another interesting story to tell in years to come! I had a close call with some visa issues myself when I was in Rwanda, just when I was about to board the plane home, but thanks to sheer luck I got out ok!

    I’m interested in that ‘catch 22’ you mentioned above – is it really the case that the Canadian government is interested in securing jobs through aid? Is it an official strategy or policy? To me that would go against the idea of building local capacities and pretty much undermine the point of aid. Capacity building has been recognised by the OECD (of which Canada is a member) as a key component of best practice in order to ensure aid effectiveness, so I’d be disappointed if this was the case.


    • Hi Colm! No, it’s definitely not an official policy to secure jobs through aid – perhaps I phrased that wrong! It’s been a long couple of weeks 🙂 I just mean that it is certainly a welcome residual effect of development funding – it requires Canadians to manage budgets and projects and occasionally offer skills with the effect of building local capacities. The result is jobs for Canadians and funding for Canadian organizations like CCA who manage each project to whatever degree. It’s not an official policy or strategy, but it’s unlikely that the Canadian government will want to continue funding and working with countries that don’t let or make it hard for them to contribute skill to and manage the projects. This is the Catch 22 – the Rwandan government wants foreign funding but increasingly less foreign involvement. Funding governments want to invest in places where they can follow up on the investment and contribute ‘in kind’ investments, like our highly skilled cohort of interns 😉

      The program that we are part of – the CIDA internships – is indeed intentionally designed to employ young professionals who can build their skill set through work in developing countries. CIDA internships are always through a Canadian NGO or a partner NGO/CSO that the Canadian government is partnered with – aka providing funding to. We are contributing to building local capacities, are we not? And the CIDA internship program is in turn contributing to building our own capacities. Is this undermining the point of aid of violating OECD best practices? I think that’s really debatable. It deliberately secures jobs for Canadians on the backs of our international development partners, but our contributions also (hopefully) have lasting impacts and contribute to local capacity building. It’s not that we’re bringing in heaps of Canadians to fill the roles, but we are employing Canadians to manage projects and we’re building the capacities of a few Canadian youth in the process.

      It could have been the way I had initially phrased it, but if not, I’m interested to debate with you the idea that aid is ever without strings or systems like the CIDA internship system is inherently anti-aid. It seems like you are suggesting that the point of aid is always selfless development of whatever nation or group you are working with. While some development doesn’t have a direct win-win for both sides (eg. employing Canadians, building Canadian youths’ skills, or furthering our business interests through development while increasing the local economy), it is definitely important for all governments to have their flags posted prominently when they are funding a project. At very least it would seem that the ultimate goal is to promote the values and prominence of the funding nation and create allies for the future…


      • Hi Bonnie, thanks for the reply. I agree wholeheartedly that aid is never solely about the moral imperative – are always other political agendas. But with the movement against tied aid in recent years and with the increased emphasis on capacity building, I just would’ve been surprised if job creation (for Canadians in developing countries) was a stated objective.

        You raise an interesting point though about the value of maintaining a presence in developing countries. I wonder how influential that can be.


  2. Hope Fried Grasshopper is the name of an exotic drink… Thanks for keeping us up-to-date, Bonnie. I hope you are able to come to an agreement with the Rwandan government, and that they will allow you to reenter the country and continue to work there.


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