UK signs 'cruel, nasty' deal to 'offload' asylum seekers in Rwanda

UK signs 'cruel, nasty' deal to 'offload' asylum seekers in Rwanda
The UK government announced a new policy on Thursday to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for offshore processing.
4 min read
14 April, 2022
Around 600 people have crossed the English Channel since the start of this year [Getty]

The UK government unveiled a "cruel" new policy on Thursday to send asylum seekers thousands of miles to Rwanda for offshore processing. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the immigration shake-up - for which plans have not been finalised yet - was driven by "humanitarian concerns" and made possible by Brexit in a speech in the coastal county Kent.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was in Rwanda this week securing a "migration and economic development partnership". 

Refugee campaigners slammed the policy change as "cruel and nasty", expressing concerns over the threat to human rights as well as the £1.4 billion estimated cost per year. 

"It is absolutely despicable that the UK Government is pushing ahead with plans to outsource the indefinite detention and processing of asylum seekers to Rwanda," said Sophie McCann, Advocacy Officer at MSF UK, in a statement sent to The New Arab. 

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, a UK charity, said: "This government now wants to treat [asylum seekers] as no more than human cargo to be shipped elsewhere."

Johnson purported in his speech that "there is simply no other option" and that the relocation scheme would be uncapped. He added that the government expects to face legal challenges, so it will not be introduced overnight.  

People who arrived "illegally" in the UK - namely, by crossing the English Channel in small boats - could be driven by the army to the airport and given a one-way ticket to Rwanda, according to British newspaper The Telegraph.

The BBC said "the trial scheme" would apply to single male asylum seekers. 

Other arrivals will be detained in a Greek-style immigration centre to be built in the north of England, according to The Mirror. 

The scheme is thought to be modelled on Australia's decades-old offshore processing policy, dubbed a "failure" by refugee campaigners and research groups.

Evidence collected by the  Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law found that the policy did not deter irregular maritime migration or save lives at sea. It also cost the Australian government on average at least $1 billion a year, the research group said. 

"When MSF teams worked on Nauru island, where the Australian government implemented a similar policy, they witnessed some of the worst suffering recorded in MSF’s 50-year existence," said McCann to The New Arab. 

Almost ten years ago, Israel signed a deal with Rwanda and Uganda to implement a "voluntary departure" policy for Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. Among those transferred, many had their travel documents confiscated and were locked in guarded hotels unable to claim asylum, according to a blog post from the University of Oxford. 

Several asylum seekers then embarked on the dangerous journey through South Sudan, Sudan and Libya to eventually make their way to Europe. 

Former International Development Secretary and Tory rebel Andrew Mitchell said that "MPs from across the House" have voiced their concerns about the policy” and questioned how practical it would be.

"How much is it going to cost? How will human rights be protected?" he asked 

The UK Labour Party said the plan was "unworkable, unethical and extortionate". 

They also decried the announcement as a decoy to distract from Johnson's breaches of the Covid-19 lockdown rules, for which he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were issued fixed penalty notices earlier this week. This sentiment has been echoed across social media. 

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The New Arab contacted the Home Office last week who said they could not confirm or deny whether the "Rwanda policy" would take place.

On Thursday, the UK government department said to this newspaper that no new information or clarification was available until Johnson's formal announcement. 

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said: "Sending people to another country - let alone one with such a dismal human rights record - for asylum ‘processing’ is the very height of irresponsibility and shows how far removed from humanity and reality the Government now is on asylum issues." 

Rwanda has a history of "arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities", according to Human Rights Watch.