The United Kingdom plans to send some asylum seekers making it to the country thousands of kilometers away to Rwanda for their demands to be treated there under a controversial new immigration scheme announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“As of today, anyone entering the UK illegally, as well as those who have arrived illegally since 1 January, can now be relocated to Rwanda,” Johnson said in a speech Thursday morning near Dover in the south-east of England, where thousands of refugees and migrants landed. on beaches after crossing the English Channel in small boats last year.
The exact details of the plan have not yet been confirmed, including whether it will be focused on single men, as previously reported, but Johnson noted that the agreement between London and Kigali was “unlimited” and could potentially see Rwanda “resettle tens of thousands of people in the following year.”
He claimed that the £ 120 million ($ 156 million) scheme would “save countless lives” from human trafficking and disrupt the business model of human trafficking gangs.
Interior Minister Priti Patel, who traveled to Rwanda’s capital on Thursday to write the agreement, meanwhile, described it as a “global first” and said it would “change the way we jointly tackle illegal migration”.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said Kigali welcomed the partnership with London, adding that it would offer “asylum seekers and migrants … legal routes to stay” in the country.
But critics, including opposition politicians and refugee organizations, have warned that the plan is unethical, useless and overly expensive. They have also expressed concern about Rwanda’s human rights status.
Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer criticized the move, calling it “a desperate announcement by a prime minister who just wants to distract from his own crime” – a nod to the renewed pressure Johnson is facing after being fined by police to break COVID-19 lockdown rules in June 2020.
“They reflect a Prime Minister who has no grip, no answers to the questions to be answered and no shame, and I think Britain deserves better than this,” Starmer said.
Crossings of the English Channel will reach record highs in 2021
More than 28,000 migrants and refugees crossed from the European mainland to the UK via the English Channel in 2021, a more than triple compared to the previous year.
Many made the dangerous crossing of one of the world’s busiest sailing routes in small dinghies unsafe for the voyage.
In November, 27 people died while trying to reach Britain as their boat emptied of air and sank, marking the worst disaster ever involving migrants and refugees trying to cross the canal from France.
Crossings continue at a pace this year, with about 600 made on Wednesday, and Johnson warned that the number could reach 1,000 a day within a few weeks as trials increase in line with the more favorable conditions caused by the beginning of the summer of the northern hemisphere.
Opponents of the government’s plans said they were unlikely to resolve the issue.
The British branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned that agreements of the kind concluded with Rwanda were often “conspicuously expensive, often in violation of international law, leading to the use of widespread detention. [and] lead to more smuggling, not less. “
“With this agreement, Britain seeks to shift its responsibilities to refugees, not share them,” it said.
Experience shows these agreements:
– are conspicuously expensive
– often violates international law
Lead to the use of widespread detention
Lead to more smuggling, not less
With this agreement, Britain seeks to shift its responsibilities to refugees, not share them. https://t.co/9FAKkdaOGy
– UNHCR United Kingdom (@UNHCRUK) April 14, 2022
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the British charity Refugee Council, also criticized the move, calling it a “cruel and ugly decision” and predicting it would not stop human trafficking gangs.
“Sending people seeking asylum to be treated abroad will certainly do nothing to address the reasons why people are taking dangerous journeys to find safety in the UK,” Solomon said in a statement.
“Instead, the government should focus on operating an orderly, humane and just asylum system and developing secure routes such as humanitarian visas, rather than damaging lives and destroying our reputation as a country that values human rights,” he added.
Johnson expects legal challenges
To defend the plan on Thursday, Johnson said he was convinced it was “fully in line” with Britain’s international legal obligations, but expected it would be “challenged in court”.
“I know this system will not take effect overnight,” he said.
Regaining control of Britain’s borders was a huge rallying cry for the Leave campaign in Britain’s divisive referendum in 2016 to leave the EU, and Johnson’s pro-Brexit government is under pressure from some quarters for a perceived failure to tackle the English Channel transitions. enough. .
Recent polls conducted by Ipsos Mori suggest that nearly two-thirds of Britons are dissatisfied with the government’s handling of immigration.
Out of the 3,206 people the company surveyed on the issue in the first two months of this year, 59 percent said they were “dissatisfied”.
More than half mentioned “not doing enough to stop canal crossings” as a reason for their dissatisfaction.