Asylum seekers will be told this week that they could be sent to Rwanda as part of the government’s new deportation policy.
The Home Office confirmed that migrants who crossed the Channel in small boats are among those who will be notified that they face a one-way ticket to the East African nation, with the first flights expected “in the coming months”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said this marks the “first stage of the process” and that “it will take some time” due to legal challenges, but stressed she would press ahead with the plans.
Guidance published by the Home Office on Monday (9 May) stated that Rwanda is “a safe country to relocate people to”, although an assessment carried out before the UK-Rwanda agreement found “some concerns with its human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speech”.
The Home Office said it will carry out a case-by-case risk assessment when determining someone’s eligibility for relocation and take any vulnerabilities, including disabilities, sexual orientation and gender reassignment status, into account.
Ms Patel said: “The world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda means those making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys to the UK may be relocated to Rwanda to have their claims for asylum considered and to rebuild their lives there, helping break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent loss of life.
“This is just the first stage of the process and we know it will take time as some will seek to frustrate the process and delay removals.
“I will not be deterred from acting to deliver on the changes the British people voted for to take back control of our money, laws and borders.”
What is the Government’s Rwanda plan?
The Home Secretary has agreed a £120-million economic deal with Rwanda that could see thousands of migrants sent to the African country within the next few years.
The scheme, described by Ms Patel as a “world-first” when it was announced last month, will see asylum seekers who are deemed to have arrived in the UK “illegally” sent to Rwanda, where their claims will be processed. If successful, they will be granted asylum or given refugee status in the country.
Those with failed bids will be offered the chance to apply for visas under other immigration routes if they wish to remain in Rwanda but could still face deportation.
Unaccompanied under-18s arriving in the UK will not be considered for relocation to Rwanda.
Anyone under consideration will receive a notice of intent, with the Home Office prioritising those arriving in the UK after 9 May.
The UK is paying the processing costs for each person sent to Rwanda, including caseworkers, access to legal advice, translators, accommodation, food, healthcare and up to five years of training to help integration.
The Prime Minister said he wants to see the first migrants given a ‘one-way ticket’ to Rwanda flown out in roughly six weeks and the scheme is part of the government’s plan to stop people trying to cross the Channel in small boats to enter the UK.
Charities have condemned the plans as “cruel and nasty”, claiming they would fail to address the issue and cause more “suffering and chaos”, while criticising Rwanda’s human rights track record.
Mr Johnson defended the scheme and insisted it was not “draconian and lacking in compassion”, adding that the agreement was “uncapped” and Rwanda would have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”.
He said the partnership would be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations”, while insisting Rwanda was “one of the safest countries in the world”.
The PM confirmed last month that the Royal Navy will take over operational command from Border Force in the Channel, and said handing responsibility for tackling migrants crossing the English Channel will send a clear message to criminal gangs and marks the UK “taking back control of illegal immigration”.
He said the new offshore asylum approach is intended to end the “barbaric trade in human misery conducted by the people smugglers in the channel”, and warned crossings could reach 1,000 a day in a few weeks.
As of 14 April, the new Migration and Economic Development Partnership means that anyone entering the UK illegally, as well as those who have arrived illegally since 1 January, may now be relocated to Rwanda.
Asylum seekers who remain in the UK while their claims are considered could be housed in stricter reception centres under the plans, the first of which will reportedly open in the village of Linton-on-Ouse, in North Yorkshire.
Is the Government’s Rwanda plan legal?
Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the UNHCR, said the Government’s plan is both a breach of international law and “unacceptable”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme that the policy was a “troubling development”, particularly as countries take in millions of refugees displaced by the conflict in eastern Europe.
Ms Triggs, who is also the former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, claimed that Britain’s plan was “an egregious breach of international law”.
When it was put to her that Australia had deployed a similar tactic to cut migration numbers, she said: “My point is, just as the Australian policy is an egregious breach of international law and refugee law and human rights law, so too is this proposal by the United Kingdom Government.
“It is very unusual, very few states have tried this, and the purpose is primarily deterrent – and it can be effective, I don’t think we’re denying that.
“But what we’re saying at the UN refugee agency is that there are much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome.”
Mr Johnson said the partnership would be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations”, while insisting Rwanda was “one of the safest countries in the world”.
However, both the Prime Minister and Ms Patel have acknowledged the plans could be challenged in the courts.
Where is Rwanda?
Rwanda is a landlocked country in the Great Rift Valley, where the African Great Lakes region and East Africa converge.
It is located a few degrees south of the Equator and is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The expected deal with Rwanda comes after other locations touted – including Ascension Island, Albania and Gibraltar – were rejected, at times angrily by the nations suggested.
What has been said about the scheme?
The Archbishop of Canterbury described the scheme as “ungodly” and said there were “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas”.
In a sermon, he said: “The details are for politics. The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot. It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.”
Elsewhere, refugee charities have criticised the scheme as a “cruel and nasty decision” that will fail to address the issue and “lead to more human suffering and chaos”, while human rights campaigners described the plan as “barbaric”, “cowardly” “shockingly ill-conceived”.
The chief executive of Refugee Action Tim Naor Hilton accused the government of “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.
He added that the UK should have learnt from “Australia’s horrific experiment” of sending refugees “thousands of miles away” to camps where they experienced “rampant abuse” as well as “rape, murder and suicide”.
He said: “This grubby cash-for-people plan would be a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war.
“Ministers seem too keen to ignore the reality that most people who cross the Channel in flimsy boats are refugees from countries where persecution and war are rife and who just want to live in safety.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, urged the government to “immediately rethink its plans”, saying: “We are appalled by the government’s cruel and nasty decision to send those seeking sanctuary in our country to Rwanda.
“Offshoring the UK’s asylum system will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons why people take perilous journeys to find safety in the UK.
“It will do little to deter them from coming to this country, but only lead to more human suffering and chaos – at a huge expense of an estimated £1.4 billion a year.”
However, the Home Office questioned the figure, with a source saying it was “ludicrous to suggest costs would be more than the current system”.
Does Rwanda have a good human rights record?
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said that the African nation had a “dismal human rights record”.
In a statement, he 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.
“The government is already wrecking our asylum system at huge cost to the taxpayer while causing terrible anxiety to the people stuck in the backlogs it has created.
“But this shockingly ill-conceived idea will go far further in inflicting suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money.”
Detention Action said that the men sent to Rwanda would “likely face indefinite detention under a government notorious for violent persecution of dissent”.
The advocacy group added: “At the same time, the UK currently gives asylum to Rwandan refugees fleeing political persecution.”
Peers could mount fresh resistance to the measure, having already inflicted a series of defeats to the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.
The legislation is currently in a tussle between the Commons and the Lords after peers defeated ministers, including with a demand that offshore asylum claims should be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.