The British government’s announcement last month of a contentious plan to send some asylum seekers to the African country has brought confusion and concern to many who arrived here on small boats that crossed the English Channel, or by other irregular means.
Asylum seekers, many of whom fled war zones and then underwent dangerous journeys to reach Britain, say that the ambiguity is an additional burden that weighs heavily on them.
Some asylum seekers who cross the Channel to the UK will be given a one-way ticket to Rwanda under new government plans.
The pilot scheme will focus on single men arriving at boats or lorries.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the £120m scheme would “save countless lives” from human trafficking.
Johnson said action was needed to stop “vile people smugglers” turning the ocean into a “watery graveyard”, with the plan designed to break their business model.
“Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not,” he said. “We can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here.”
Refugee organisations have criticised the plan as cruel. They questioned its cost and impact and raised concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record.
Notably, last year, the Johnson Government itself informed the United Nations of its concern about “continuing restrictions on civil and political rights and freedom of information” in Rwanda.
The leader of the Anglican Church, Justin Welby, strongly criticised the British government’s plan in unusual direct political interference in his Easter speech, saying there were “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers abroad”; rights groups, as well, described the plan as inhumane, unworkable and wasting taxpayer money.
In an indication that the British Government would proceed with its decision without attention to angry reactions, Tory MP Andrew Griffiths announced that the plan would not require new legislation and could be implemented under existing agreements in a few weeks or months.
The Facts on the Increase in Illegal Immigration
The number of migrants rescued off the coast of Calais and taken in by the French state tripled in 2021, the country’s Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII) said on Monday.
“The number of people shipwrecked off the coast of Calais and taken to safety was 1,002 in 2021,” compared with 341 in 2020, an increase of 194%, OFII told AFP.
At least 28,395 people reached the English coast in small boats after illegally crossing the Channel in 2021, according to a tally by the PA news agency based on figures from Britain’s Home Office.
That was a significant increase on the previous year when more than 8,400 people successfully made the perilous journey.
In November alone, about 6,900 people crossed the Channel to England but 27 people also lost their lives in the deadliest shipwreck on the route.
Only two people were rescued in this tragedy and they are among the 1,000 migrants taken in last year.
In addition, the number of people living in makeshift camps on the northern coast in the hope of crossing to Britain and who were “given shelter and directed into the national reception system was 31,103” last year, up 239% on 2020 (9,172), he added.
Among these, the proportion of people with families or who are “vulnerable” has doubled, rising from 1,158 to 2,273.
In total, OFII said, 9,779 accommodation places were offered in 2021, mainly in the Hauts-de-France region (98%) with 6,950 given a room.
UK Rwanda Asylum Plan against International Law
Plans to send some asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda are a breach of international law, the UN’s refugee agency has said.
The UNHCR said attempting to “shift responsibility” for claims of refugee status was “unacceptable”.
Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the UNHCR, told BBC Radio 4’s the World At One programme the agency strongly condemned “outsourcing” the responsibility of considering refugee status to another country.
A former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, she said such policies – as used in Australia – could be effective as a deterrent but there were “much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome”.
Australia has used offshore detention centres since 2001, with thousands of asylum seekers being transferred out of the country since then.
It has been frequently criticised by the UN and rights groups over substandard conditions at its centres and its own projections show it will spend $811.8m (£460m) on offshore processing in 2021-22.
Human Rights Watch also said that UK plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda is cruelty itself, accusing UK government continues to rip up its duties to asylum seekers.