The British government announced, Thursday, April 14, an agreement with Rwanda which aroused astonishment within the opposition and human rights organizations. It will mainly allow the sending of some of the asylum seekers who have arrived illegally on the coasts of the United Kingdom to this African country, 6,000 kilometers away, while their application is being processed. In addition, it is the British navy which will henceforth be mobilized to control the arrival of boats, instead of the coastguards.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained at a press conference that under this agreement Rwanda could host “tens of thousands of people in the years to come”. Despite strong criticism from human rights organisations, he assured that this East African country was “one of the safest in the world, globally recognized for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants”.
Deter asylum seekers
The UK Home Office estimates around 28,500 people crossed the English Channel in 2021, a number that has tripled from the previous year. With this new device, Boris Johnson hopes to deter asylum seekers and put an end to the systems of smugglers who organize the trafficking of vulnerable people wishing to reach the United Kingdom. Anyone arriving illegally in the UK will be subject to deportation to Africa.
Recovered asylum seekers will first be housed there in dedicated premises. If their application is accepted, they will have the opportunity to go to the United Kingdom, where they will benefit from social protection and access to the labor market. But leaks in the British press suggest that “relocated” migrants will be strongly encouraged to stay there. The government’s discourse seems somewhat confused on this point. No indication was given on the fate of migrants whose asylum applications fail.
The morality of the agreement questioned
The announcement of this initiative sparked an outcry within the opposition. The Labor Party called him a“immoral”. For Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Ian Blackford, the idea of sending vulnerable people to Rwanda is “terrifying”.
Several humanitarian organizations point the finger at Rwanda’s shortcomings in terms of respect for human rights. Amnesty International highlights the multiple cases of disappearances reported in recent years.
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These organizations are also concerned about attacks on freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch thus recalls that several opponents of Rwandan President Paul Kagame have already been arrested, and that torture is almost trivialized in Rwanda.
Finally, questions about the cost of this agreement have been raised. The United Kingdom plans to release a sum of 120 million pounds (144 million euros) to financially support the establishment of a reception system for asylum seekers.
The British Embassy in Kigali assures that the first flights to the Rwandan capital should take place in the next few months. But Boris Johnson expects a fierce legal challenge. The House of Lords (upper house of Parliament, editor’s note) had already opposed a law on the creation of detention centers located abroad that could keep migrants during the asylum application process.
Pending the adoption of this plan, the Home Office has announced that an air base in the north of England will be converted into a reception center for asylum seekers, in order to alleviate pressure on the Channel coasts.