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Journalist Sally Hayden speaks at a conference on human rights, migration and AI in Brussels in 2023. Alamy Stock Photo
Press Freedom

Irish journalist Sally Hayden denied entry to Rwanda to report on 30th anniversary of genocide

Hayden – a reporter with The Irish Times – has been to Rwanda three times before as a journalist.

AWARD WINNING IRISH journalist Sally Hayden has said she was denied entry to Rwanda in March while attempting to travel there with the aim of reporting on the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. 

Hayden is an Africa correspondent with The Irish Times who has also written about asylum seekers and immigration policy for publications in the UK and US. She recently won An Post’s Book of the Year for ‘My Fourth Time, We Drowned’ and was named Journalist of the Year in 2023. 

She said her being denied entry to Rwanda calls into question how the UK Government’s plan to send asylum seekers there can be properly scrutinised in a country without press freedom. 

Hayden told The Journal that she was queueing up to board a flight from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to the Rwandan capital Kigali on 25 March. She had flown from France to Ethiopia and had been waiting hours for a transfer flight.  

But when she got to the gate, airline staff began looking at her passport and shaking their heads before telling her they had received an email from the Rwandan authorities instructing them not to allow Hayden on board. 

She called the Irish embassy in Kampala, Uganda as there is no Irish embassy in Rwanda. Hayden’s passport had been taken and she was not told why she was being denied entry. 

“They still haven’t been told me why,” she said of the Rwandan authorities. “Officially, they haven’t told me anything.” 

Hayden has been to Rwanda three times before as a journalist. She did not have trouble entering the country on any of those occasions.

She had applied for journalist accreditation for the March trip, which was still pending when she tried to board the plane. 

It is not unusual for journalists to travel to a country they hope to report in while their application for accreditation is still pending. 

A chapter of her book – which tells the stories of refugees attempting to travel to Europe and the hazardous obstacles in their path – focused on refugees in Rwanda.

Rwanda hosts asylum seekers in campsites, who were transferred from detention centres in Libya in a deal partly financed by the EU. 

Hayden believes her reporting is likely the reason she has been denied entry.

“I presume that it’s related to my reporting on refugee issues,” she said.

“My reporting was actually submitted in the legal challenge against the UK Home Office challenging this new UK-Rwanda deportation plan.”

She had decided not to make the incident public as she tried to engage with the Rwandan Government to resolve the issue. 

But because of the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which is being debated again this week, she felt it was timely to let people know about the level of press freedom in the country. 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak introduced emergency legislation last year after a Supreme Court ruling deemed the plan illegal under international law.

The emergency legislation seeks to compel judges to treat Rwanda as a “safe third country” and would also allow UK ministers to disregard sections of international and British human rights law.

“What I’ve always said about Rwanda deal is that proper scrutiny of the consequences of this policy are not possible because it’s not a country with freedom of media and freedom of speech,” said Hayden. 

“It’s similar to my reporting in the Central Mediterranean, in that Western countries are bringing in policies that move vulnerable people to places where they are much more vulnerable to abuse, without actually having measures in place to analyse the consequences or to track the consequences.

“Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is another example of that.”


Need more clarity and context on how migration is being discussed in Ireland, the UK and the EU? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to finding good information online.

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