UK-Rwanda Migrant Agreement: UK announces controversial plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the scheme “an innovative approach driven by our shared humanitarian momentum and made possible by the Brexit freedoms” on Thursday, saying that with the UK’s help, Rwanda could resettle “tens of thousands of people”. in the coming years.”

Speaking at a joint press conference in the Rwandan capital Kigali on Thursday, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said people who moved to Rwanda “will be provided with support including up to five years of training, integration, accommodation, health care to enable them to relocate.” and prosper.”
Patel also called the plan “a joint new partnership on migration and economic development”, saying that the UK is “investing heavily in Rwanda’s economic development”.

Patel insisted that the aim of the agreement was to improve the UK’s asylum system, which she said faced “a combination of real humanitarian crises and malicious smugglers who profit from the system for their own ends”.

When asked by a reporter what the criteria for resettlement would be, Patel said: “We are quite clear that anyone who enters the UK illegally will be considered for resettlement and taken to Rwanda, I am not going to divulge specific criteria for the number of reasons.”

Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said Rwanda was pleased to work with the UK.

Asked if Rwanda has infrastructure to receive migrants, Biruta said the country is capable of receiving migrants and will invest in new infrastructure to train and accommodate migrants with UK support.

Biruta added that the program would only be for UK asylum seekers who are based in the UK and that they “would prefer not to accept people from immediate neighbors such as the DRC, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania”.

“Traded like a commodity”

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed “strong opposition and concern” to the plan and called on both countries to reconsider their decision.

“People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and sympathy. They cannot be sold as goods and taken abroad for processing,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs said in a statement.

“UNHCR remains strongly opposed to arrangements aimed at the transfer of refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient guarantees and standards. Such arrangements simply shift the responsibility for granting asylum, evade international obligations, and go against the letter and spirit of refugee law. Convention,” Triggs said.

The UNHCR also said the plan would increase risks and force refugees to seek alternative routes, putting more pressure on front-line states.

“Experience shows that these agreements are usually incredibly expensive. They often violate international law. They do not lead to solutions, but rather to mass detentions or an increase in smuggling,” UNHCR senior lawyer Larry Bottinick told British radio station Times Radio. Thursday.

Human Rights Watch strongly criticized the plan, issuing a sharp statement.

The appalling human rights situation in Rwanda is well documented.

“Rwanda has a well-known track record of extrajudicial executions, suspicious deaths in custody, illegal or arbitrary detentions, torture and abusive prosecutions, especially against critics and dissidents. and provides asylum to Rwandans who fled the country, including four last year alone,” the report said, adding: “At a time when the people of Britain have opened their hearts and homes to Ukrainians, the government chooses to act with brutality.” and sever their obligations to others fleeing war and persecution.”

Amnesty International’s director of refugee and migrant rights in the UK, Steve Valdez-Symonds, called the plan “shockingly ill-conceived”.

“Sending people to another country — let alone a country with such a dark human rights record — to ‘process’ asylum is the height of irresponsibility and shows how far removed from humanity and reality the government is right now on asylum issues,” Valdez said. . Symonds said in statement.

As part of the new plan, the British Royal Navy will take operational command from the Channel Border Force “with the aim that not a single boat reaches the UK undetected,” Johnson said.

It also allows UK authorities to prosecute those who arrive illegally, “with a life sentence for anyone who pilots boats,” he said.

The English Channel, the narrow waterway between Britain and France, is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the world’s poorest or war-torn countries risk crossing the border, often in unseaworthy boats and at the mercy of smugglers, hoping to gain asylum or economic opportunity in the UK.

Last November, 27 people drowned in very cold water off the coast of France after an inflatable boat carrying migrants bound for the UK capsized in one of the deadliest Channel incidents in years.

Kara Fox and Helen Regan of CNN contributed to this report.

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