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Rwanda's homeless shipped to remote island

June 06 2010
"Social rehabilitation" or  Alcatraz? One country is taking drastic measures to clear the streets: by shipping the homeless to the remote island.

The government of Rwanda described the movement of almost 900 beggars, rough sleepers and suspected petty thieves, without a criminal trial, as a process of social rehabilitation. But others have said Iwawa Island is more like Alcatraz.

Rwanda, infamous for the brutal ethnic killings in 1994, is now one of the safest and cleanest African countries. But critics are concerned President Paul Kagame and his government are becoming too obsessed with appearances.

One 14-year old told the New York Times how he was arrested for 'loitering' along with a group of other street children. He now spends his days learning patriotic songs and marching, and sleeps in a huge metal shed.

Iwawa Island has become a convenient home for dissenters and misfits as the national elections approach this summer, and may represent an uncomfortable mirror for those concerned about London's plans to eradicate homelessness before the Olympics.

On the island, men, women and - allegedly - dozens of children can spend up to three years learning new skills such as bricklaying, hairdressing and mechanics. The authorities state it is in the name of unity, self-improvement and second chances, not persecution.