UK plan for asylum seekers “cruel” and “inhumane”

April 15, 2022 - 18:11

Under a new British government scheme, thousands of asylum seekers who cross the English Channel on small boats will be detained and flown more than 6,500 kilometers on one-way tickets to the African country of Rwanda.

In a bid to deter asylum seekers from taking the only possible route effectively made available by the government to claim asylum in the UK, the new plan will see those arriving in Britain including some who arrived as early as January 1 this year will no longer be allowed to remain in the country while they await the outcome of their cases. 

They will instead be sent to Rwanda, where their claims will be processed. Some could then be resettled in the African country for around five years. 

Critics including refugee groups, human-rights advocates, and United Nations agencies have been very quick to denounce London’s plan saying it will inflict more suffering and harm on the asylum seekers. 

In a speech, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that “Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead.”

Johnson also claims that thousands of refugees have crossed the English Channel in small boats to reach Britain last year and that the number could rise. 

Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta says that his government is creating “a safe and empowering haven” for anyone seeking refuge. 

When asked by reporters whether Rwanda has the means to host the refugees, the minister said his country has the capacity to receive asylum seekers and “will invest in new infrastructure to educate and house migrants with the UK's support.”

However, Biruta added the scheme will only be for people seeking asylum in the UK and Rwanda would "prefer not to receive refugees from immediate neighbors countries.”

He also says Britain will be sending “$200 million” to Rwanda for “investment” purposes. 

A Rwandan government spokesperson says "once [the asylum seekers] claims are determined they will be facilitated to integrate into the community.”

Critics have described the scheme as a violation of international laws and a serious threat to the international system of refugee protection that has saved millions of lives in the past.

In a statement, Gillian Triggs, the assistant high commissioner at UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency) said people fleeing war and persecution “should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing,”

She expressed the refugee agency’s strong opposition to the plan saying “such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.” 

Instead of deterring refugees from dangerous journeys across the English Channel, the new approach will only “magnify risks” by forcing refugees to seek alternative routes, she added.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the plan is “cruelty itself” and will prove to be ineffective and unlawful. 

The group says a similar system in Australia with offshore processing for asylum seekers has caused severe abuses and “immense human suffering” over the past eight years, with many people trapped in indefinite detentions that have led to suicides and an epidemic of self-harm.

Amnesty International UK says the British government scheme is “shockingly ill-conceived” and will inflict suffering on asylum seekers while wasting huge amounts of public money.

Many experts have ridiculed UK PM Boris Johnson’s portrait of Rwanda as having an endless capacity for accepting refugees. 

In reality, they say, Rwanda is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world while heavily dependent on foreign aid.

Under an agreement between Israeli and Rwandan officials in 2013, thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were sent from the occupied Palestinian territories to Rwanda. 

Lawyers who later interviewed some of the asylum seekers found they had their travel documents confiscated as soon as they landed, immediately transferred to a guarded hotel, prevented from leaving, and not even allowed to apply for asylum. 

They were also exposed to robberies and arrests with many fleeing the African country via dangerous routes to seek better refuge.

Opposition politicians in Rwanda have also criticized their government’s agreement, saying wealthy western countries should “own up to international obligations on the migration issues”.

DALFA-Umurinzi says officials in Rwanda should focus on solving the political and social issues that made Rwandans seek refuge abroad before offering “to host refugees or migrants from other countries”.

Another opposition party, the Democratic Green party of Rwanda, says wealthy countries such as the UK “should not shift their international obligation to receive refugees and transfer them to third countries” just because they had “the money to influence and enforce their will”.

“Rwanda has already a high population destiny… and already land is not sufficient for us all, with a lot of land conflicts and competition for the natural resources,” the party said. 

“Taking on migrants from UK will increase the land burden and survival challenges for the limited natural resources available.”

Analysts say Johnson is trying to distract attention from renewed calls for him to resign after being fined by police this week for attending a gathering celebrating his birthday in June 2020 when social mixing was banned under COVID-19 rules and regulations that his own government introduced.

Two months ago, Johnson’s reins in power was about to collapse and he needed to convince members of his ruling Conservative party to stick by his side as more and more scandals emerged his popularity has quickly dropped. 

That’s when the asylum seekers plan was devised, dubbed “Operation Red Meat”, to give those losing faith in his administration stronger belief amid the exposure of one scandal after the other. 

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the defense select committee, has accused Johnson of unveiling the plans as part of a “massive distraction” from becoming the first Prime Minister to be found guilty of a criminal charge while in office.

Observers note it was with much media attention and fanfare that Johnson wanted to announce a tough new immigration policy. 

Johnson is said to have tried hard for the plan to be announced before the local elections, with many Conservative party members worried they will lose their jobs because of the fines and ongoing police investigation into law-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Analysts have also highlighted the racist aspect of the government’s new scheme which will target mostly refugees fleeing war zones in West Asia and Africa. 

This is while at the same time the UK has opened its hearts and homes to those fleeing the crisis in Ukraine. 

There is a deep sense of double standards and hypocrisy over the British government’s obligations under international law towards refugees. 

The Conservative party peer Sayeeda Warsi has called the scheme inhumane and cynical saying “this proposal of offshoring asylum seekers to Rwanda is ineffective and costly.”

She also added her voice to those who have denounced the plan as inconsistent with the UK’s “generous response” to the conflict in Ukraine and described the timing as cynical and political.

A snap poll by YouGov of almost 3,000 British voters has found that only 35 percent of people support the new measures.

The British Red Cross says it is “profoundly concerned” about the controversial new plans to “send traumatized people halfway around the world to Rwanda. We are not convinced this drastic measure will deter desperate people from attempting to cross the Channel either.”

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