Johnson, who announced the Rwanda scheme in April, will not take time out from the conference to visit any of the accommodation that the UK government has hired as living quarters for removed asylum seekers.
“You will know that the prime minister’s time is always limited and to make time to do that he would therefore have to leave elements of the programme whereby he’s working with a unique set of world leaders on quite crucial issues,” his spokesperson said.
“We think that the best use of his time for this short period he’s in Rwanda is to dedicate himself to some of the issues that will be raised at the summit and to work with other world leaders on some of those issues we’ve talked about, not least Ukraine and global security.”
Downing Street said it was likely Johnson would discuss the plans with the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, but stressed there were a “host of other issues to discuss”.
Late on Wednesday the Rwandan government spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo, said her country is “prepared to take in thousands [of people] depending on how things go”. Asked how much per asylum seeker the UK government was going to pay Rwanda, she told ITV’s Peston: “These figures are still being worked out.”
Kagame, has been lauded for his role in ending the 1994 genocide in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed. But he has also been accused of ruthlessly harassing and kidnapping political opponents.
His alleged victims include Paul Rusesabagina, a former Kigali hotel manager whose efforts to save people in the genocide is told in the film Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina, a US permanent resident and prominent dissident, was abducted while travelling in the Middle East in August 2020 and tricked into boarding a private plane that took him to Rwanda, where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Last month the US state department formally declared him to be wrongfully detained.
Johnson’s spokesperson said there was an expectation that human rights would be raised with Kagame. “You would expect the PM to raise human rights issues as he has done in the past. We want Rwanda to uphold and champion the Commonwealth values, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. And we want due process for all those in detention and fair and transparent application of the rule of law,” he said.
Prince Charles, who is representing the Queen at the summit, landed in Rwanda on Tuesday. It is not clear which day he will hold talks with Johnson, but he will open the summit’s main session for prime ministers and presidents on Friday.
Johnson also wants to use the meeting of the 54 nations that are mostly former British colonies to tackle the food and energy insecurity caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Commonwealth countries find themselves on the frontline of many of these issues from climate change to rising food prices,” his spokesperson said.
Another item on the Chogm programme is the selection of the next secretary general. Johnson is opposing the incumbent,Patricia Scotland, a Labour peer, and instead backs Jamaica’s Kamina Johnson Smith.