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Rwanda Government attacks The New York Times over Iwawa Prison Camp report

Kigali – Following a damning story published by The New York Times early this month accusing Rwandan government of forcefully deporting hundreds of youths to the remote Iwawa Island on Lake Kivu, the government has fired back.

In the article titled ‘Rwanda Pursues Dissenters and the Homeless’ of May 01, The New York Times reported that government had forced up to 900 “beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of children” to the island because they undermine the image of the country.

The paper claimed among them includes even children. It cited Gasigwa, 14, who whispered “Please call my father,” adding, “He has no idea where I am.”

“We call it the island of no return,” said Esperance Uwizeyimana, a homeless mother of four.

“None of the vocational training programs had started by mid-March. Protais Mitali, the youth minister, insisted there were no street children here, just adults. Yet squeezed in with the men were many adolescents like Gasigwa, and employees confided that several dozen boys were incarcerated here.”

Rwandan teenagers detained in remote Iwawa Island prison campRwandan teenagers detained in remote Iwawa Island prison camp

“This isn’t a good place for children,” one employee said in hushed tones because the minister was nearby. “They could get abused.”

In the story, several government officials including the Minister were quoted as well as critics.

The New York Times summarized Rwanda, based on this project and other issues, as: “orderly but repressive”.

Now Rwandan Government has angrily fired back. In a letter to the American daily, Youth Minister Mitali dismisses all the accusations.
Read the whole letter below:

Youth Center in Rwanda

To the Editor:

Re “Rwanda’s Mix: Order, Tension, Repressiveness” (front page, May 1):

The Rehabilitation and Vocational Skills Development Center at Iwawa Island was established to equip young Rwandans living on the street with skills to make them employable. There is nothing sinister or repressive about the center; institutions of this kind can be found in many countries around the world.

The center caters to young men over 18; younger street children are housed and trained at a separate center east of Kigali, run by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion. None of the young people had to go through the justice system simply because they are not criminals and the center in Iwawa is not a prison. In addition, all of them are carefully screened twice, in Kigali and again once they arrive on the island.

Your reporter writes that he spoke to a 14-year-old boy. Although most of the young people do not have identification documents and often don’t know or lie about their age, anyone found to be younger than 18 is immediately transferred to the center for children.

I object to accusations of repression behind an initiative established with the best intentions to retool otherwise delinquent youth with the capacity to lead meaningful, dignified lives and contribute to the development of their country.

Protais Mitali

Minister of Youth

Kigali, Rwanda, May 5, 2010

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