The UK will send people seeking asylum 4,500 miles away to Rwanda as part of a controversial new plan.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the policy on Wednesday during a visit to Rwanda. Under the deal, the east African country will be paid £120 million to receive some male asylum seekers from the UK.
The announcement of a so-called “migration and economic development partnership” comes as part of a set of policies intending to deter people fleeing war and poverty from seeking asylum in the UK. Other policies expected to be announced include using the navy to police the Channel crossing where thousands of people have drowned trying to escape hardship.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to link the scheme directly to Brexit. In a speech on Thursday he will say: “The British people voted several times to control our borders. Not to close them, but to control them.”
Although specifics of the outsourcing plan have not been released, the trial will see people flown to Rwanda to have their asylum applications processed in the country – something that could take years. Refugees will receive some form of accommodation in Rwanda if their asylum application is successful.
It is not clear how refugees will be housed or what rights they will have while waiting for their immigration status to be confirmed in Rwanda. According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2021, Rwanda had 127,163 refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees in Rwandan camps are subject to “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Critics have called the plan unethical and expensive. Labour called the plan, “unworkable, unethical and extortionate”.
Others have pointed out the starkly contrasting approach to those fleeing war in Ukraine. While people fleeing hardship in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea may face deportation thousands of miles away, the UK is offering to house thousands of Ukrainian refugees, with Patel offering to provide “sanctuary to those fleeing their home.”
Zoe Gardner, policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) told VICE News: “Most of us want people fleeing danger to be treated with dignity and respect – the public's response to Ukraine and Afghanistan has made that crystal clear.”
“But instead of welcoming those who need protection, this government are instead attempting to distract from their own political headaches – whether that’s Partygate or the cost of living crisis – by scapegoating vulnerable people. Their inhumane and outlandish Rwandan asylum deal would see refugees sent thousands of miles away, to a country with a dubious record on protecting the most vulnerable, including LGBT+ people.”
It follows similar policies introduced in Israel and Denmark, which both attempted to outsource the processing of asylum seekers to countries thousands of miles away. In both cases, trials failed after a public and international backlash. The EU Commission ruled that Denmark’s outsourcing attempt was incompatible with EU law.
The announcement comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces calls to resign after receiving a fine for breaking his own coronavirus laws during the UK’s lockdown.