People seeking asylum in the UK could now be relocated to Rwanda under a controversial new scheme that has been blown up by international human rights groups as “shockingly ill-conceived” and in breach of international obligations.
The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called the scheme an “innovative approach, driven by our common humanitarian impulse and made possible by Brexit freedoms”, and said that with Britain’s help, Rwanda would have the capacity to resettle “tens of thousands of people”. in the coming years.”
At a joint press conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Thursday, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said people who have moved to Rwanda “will be given support including up to five years of training, integration, accommodation, health care so they can resettle and thrive.”
Patel also called the plan a “joint new migration and economic development partnership”, saying Britain “is making significant investments in the economic development of Rwanda.”
Patel insisted the purpose of the deal was to improve the British asylum system, which she said has faced “a combination of real humanitarian crises and evil human traffickers who profit by exploiting the system for their own gain.”
When a reporter asked what the criteria would be for relocation, Patel said “we are very clear that anyone entering the UK illegally will be considered for resettlement and brought over to Rwanda, I do not intend to reveal specific criteria for a number of reasons. ”
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said Rwanda was happy to work with Britain.
Asked if Rwanda has the infrastructure to host the influx, Biruta said the country has the capacity to receive migrants and will invest in new infrastructure to train and house migrants with UK support.
Biruta added that the program will only be for people seeking asylum in the UK and are in the UK and that they “prefer not to receive people from immediate neighbors such as the DRC, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed “strong opposition and concern” over the plan and called on both countries to reconsider.
“People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded as raw materials and transferred abroad for processing,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs said in a statement.
“UNHCR remains strongly opposed to schemes seeking to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries for lack of adequate security measures and standards. Such schemes simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations and run counter to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention,” Triggs said.
UNHCR also said the plan would increase risks and get refugees looking for alternative routes, which would put more pressure on frontline states.
Experience shows that these agreements are usually conspicuously expensive. They often violate international law. They do not lead to solutions, rather to widespread detention or more smuggling, “UNHCR senior lawyer Larry Bottinick told the British Radio Times on Thursday.
Human Rights Watch was highly critical of the plan and issued a strongly worded statement.
“Rwanda’s shocking human rights history is well documented,” it said.
“Rwanda has a known track record of extrajudicial killings, suspicious deaths in custody, illegal or arbitrary detention, torture and violent prosecutions, particularly directed at critics and dissidents. In fact, Britain directly raised its concerns about respect for human rights with Rwanda and granted asylum to Rwandans. , who have fled the country, including four just last year, “it said, adding:” At a time when the people of Britain have opened their hearts and homes to Ukrainians, the government is choosing to act with cruelty and tear up their commitments to others fleeing war and persecution. ”
Amnesty International UK Director of Refugee and Migrant Rights Steve Valdez-Symonds described the plan as “shockingly ill-conceived”.
“Sending people to another country – let alone one with such a grim human rights history – for asylum ‘treatment’ is the very pinnacle of irresponsibility and shows how far away from humanity and reality the government is now in asylum matters,” Valdez-Symonds said in a declaration.
As part of the new plan, the British Royal Navy will take over the operational command from the Border Force in the English Channel “with the aim that no boat comes undetected to Britain,” Johnson said.
It also allows UK authorities to prosecute those who arrive illegally, “with life sentences for anyone who drives the boats,” he said.
The English Channel, a narrow waterway between Britain and France, is one of the busiest sailing routes in the world. Refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the world’s poorest or war-torn countries risk the dangerous crossing, often in dinghies unfit for travel and at the mercy of human traffickers, hoping to claim asylum or economic opportunities in Britain.
Last November, 27 people drowned in bitterly cold water off the coast of France after a rubber dinghy carrying migrants on its way to Britain capsized in one of the deadliest incidents in the English Channel in recent years.