UK asylum seekers to be flown to Rwanda under government plans

Charities say the 'cruel and nasty decision' to send some asylum seekers to be processed offshore will fail to address the problem
Migrants are led to Dungeness, Kent, after a small boat incident in the Channel on March 24. PA

Asylum seekers will be flown for processing in Rwanda under British government plans expected to be announced as ministers face pressure to tackle small boat crossings of the Channel.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to say on Thursday that action is needed to combat the “vile people smugglers” turning the ocean into a “watery graveyard”.

But charities warned the “cruel and nasty decision” to send some asylum seekers more than 9,600 kilometres away will not address the issue, and “lead to more human suffering and chaos” and cost an estimated £1.4 billion ($1.8bn).

After a speech from the prime minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel was expected to set out more details of a “migration and economic development partnership” with Rwanda, during a visit to the East African nation.

Under pressure after being fined for breaching coronavirus laws, Mr Johnson will say that the number of people making the perilous crossing of the Channel could reach 1,000 a day in weeks, after about 600 arrived on Wednesday.

“I accept that these people — whether 600 or 1,000 — are in search of a better life, the opportunities that the United Kingdom provides and the hope of a fresh start,” he is expected to say.

“But it is these hopes, these dreams, that have been exploited. These vile people smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard, with men, women and children drowning in unseaworthy boats and suffocating in refrigerated lorries.”

Mr Johnson will argue the nation voted to “control” immigration in the Brexit referendum rather than control borders, and say that “our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not”.

“So just as Brexit allowed us to take back control of legal immigration by replacing free movement with our points-based system, we are also taking back control of illegal immigration, with a long-term plan for asylum in this country,” he is expected to say, according to released excerpts of his address.

“It is a plan that will ensure the UK has a world-leading asylum offer, providing generous protection to those directly fleeing the worst of humanity, by settling thousands of people every year through safe and legal routes.”

Many details of the expected announcement, such as whether it would apply only to those who arrived by what the government calls illegal means, remained unclear.
Migrants are brought ashore at Dungeness by RNLI Lifeboat members after crossing the Channel. Reuters

British Red Cross executive director Zoe Abrams said the humanitarian network was “profoundly concerned” about the plans to “send traumatised people halfway round the world to Rwanda”.

“The financial and human cost will be considerable,” Ms Abrams said. "Evidence from where offshoring has been implemented elsewhere shows it leads to profound human suffering, plus the bill that taxpayers will be asked to foot is likely to be huge.

“We are not convinced this drastic measure will deter desperate people from attempting to cross the Channel, either.

"People come here for reasons we can all understand, like wanting to be reunited with loved ones or because they speak the language. Making it harsher may do little to stop them risking their lives.”

The House of Lords could oppose the measure, having already inflicted defeats on the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

The legislation is 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.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the “shockingly ill-conceived idea will go far further in inflicting suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money”.

Sonya Sceats, the chief executive of the Freedom from Torture charity, said plans to “imprison refugees in prison camps in Rwanda is deeply disturbing and should horrify anybody with a conscience”.

“It is even more dismaying that the UK government has agreed this deal with a state known to practise torture, as we know from the many Rwandan torture survivors we have treated over the years,” Ms Sceats said.

She suggested Mr Johnson was hoping the “cynical announcement will distract from his own lawbreaking and shore up his party’s plummeting support in the upcoming local elections”.

Ministers have been under pressure to accept more refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the visa system criticised as too bureaucratic.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, urged the government to “immediately rethink its plans”.

“We are appalled by the Government’s cruel and nasty decision to send those seeking sanctuary in our country to Rwanda,” Mr Solomon said.

“Every day we are hearing the stories of desperate Ukrainian families fleeing war.

"This is the brutal reality faced by refugees escaping conflicts all over the world, who this government now wants to treat as no more than human cargo to be shipped elsewhere.

“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 £1.4bn a year.”

The expected deal with Rwanda comes after other locations suggested — including Ascension Island, Albania and Gibraltar — were rejected, at times angrily by the nations.

Updated: April 13, 2022, 10:39 PM