Some UK asylum seekers will be moved to Rwanda – more than 4,000 miles away – under the British government’s new plans.
The controversial program is part of a suite of tougher government measures to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country in small boats across the English Channel.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is in the African country to sign a $150 million deal that includes testing the scheme as unmarried men arrive in the UK.
In a speech on Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the programme, saying it was necessary to “save countless lives” and prevent “human traffickers” from turning the ocean into a “water graveyard”.
Under the new scheme, he said, anyone arriving in the UK illegally could be “transferred” to Rwanda.
“This policy has no limits,” Johnson said. He added that Rwanda had increased its capacity to receive migrants in recent years by “tens of thousands of people”.
“We cannot maintain an illegal parallel system,” Johnson said. “Our mercy may be infinite, but the ability to help people is not.”
Official statistics show that last year, 28,526 people crossed the English Channel in small boats, compared to 8,404 people in 2020.
Last Wednesday (13/4), about 600 asylum seekers crossed the canal, and according to Johnson, the number could reach 1,000 per day in the coming weeks.
The housing in which these individuals will be housed, has been seen by the BBC, which are believed to hold about 100 people at a time and receive up to 500 migrants a year.
‘Impractical and immoral’
The new program was widely criticized by humanitarian organizations, who described the plans as harsh, and by opposition parties, who said it would be “impractical, immoral, wasteful and ineffective”.
Opposition parties are also aware that the annual cost of the entire plan will be significantly higher than the initial payment of $150 million, and have raised concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record.
Straight from Rwanda, the BBC’s national affairs editor Mark Easton explained that the government faces significant legal hurdles and costs in launching the scheme.
The distance from the UK to Rwanda is 6,500 km (Photo: BBC)
The exact details of the project have not yet been confirmed, but there is information that the testing program will be limited primarily to single men.
Under the proposal, Rwanda will take responsibility for people who make the journey over 6,500 km, put them on an asylum process, and eventually, if successful, those individuals will have long-term residence in the country.
The Rwandan government has indicated that migrants will “entitle to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to work and access to health and social services.”
The UK Home Office believes existing asylum law will be sufficient to implement the scheme, but doubts remain about the legality of the decision.
Questions have also been raised about the human rights record of the Rwandan government and its president, Paul Kagame.
Many of its critics died or were subjected to assassination attempts, but Rwanda has always rejected insinuations that the government was involved in these events.
There are also concerns about the terrorism conviction of Paul Rossabgina, who was portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda for his role in rescuing more than 1,000 people during that country’s 1994 genocide.
Last year, the UK government itself expressed concern at the United Nations about “ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights and freedom of the press” in Rwanda, and called for independent investigations into “allegations of extrajudicial executions, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel (centre) arrived in Rwanda to sign a $150 million deal – Image: PA Media via BBC
Very controversial plan
Analysis by Mark Easton, BBC national affairs editor
The partnership with Rwanda is the cornerstone of a broader political campaign to address what has been a humiliation for ministers who promised that Brexit would mean control of the UK’s borders.
Instead, a record number of asylum seekers showed up on boats on the white cliffs of Dover, off the coast of the country.
This year there were 4,578 arrivals and everything indicates that this will be a new record.
However, sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is likely to be highly controversial and legally difficult.
Critics point to Rwanda’s poor human rights record. Last year, the United Kingdom demanded at the United Nations an investigation into the alleged murders, disappearances and torture.
Ministers will have to explain why Rwanda is the right place to mandate the protection of the human rights of vulnerable asylum seekers who have expected the UK to protect them.
Activists highlight the negative impact on the human rights of refugees, the cost of the program and question whether the plan will be able to achieve the proposed goals.
Enver Solomon, executive director of the Refugee Council, said the proposal did not address the reasons for desperate people to travel to the UK.
Amnesty International UK called the plan a “surprisingly wrong idea” that would waste public money.
Lucy Powell, the culture secretary for the opposition Labor Party, said her party had called for “disturbing measures” such as curbs on people smugglers who promote businesses online.
The Liberal Democrats announced that the government was “close the door” to refugees, while Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party called the plan “absolutely horrific”.
Is it legal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?
The British government wants to introduce new laws aimed at making it easier for the UK to send refugees to another country so that your asylum application can be processed elsewhere.
The country is also a signatory to two important international treaties that guarantee the rights of refugees and asylum seekers:
Therefore, if there is a risk of a person being mistreated in Rwanda, they cannot be sent there.
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