The UK plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has drawn outrage

LONDON (AP) – The British Conservative government has struck a deal with Rwanda to send asylum seekers thousands of miles away in East Africa, with opposition politicians and refugee groups denouncing it as inhumane, ineffective and a waste of public money.

Home Secretary Priti Patel visited the Rwandan capital Kigali on Thursday and signed an agreement calling the two countries an “economic development partnership”. The project will see the UK government pick up some people coming to Britain in trucks or small boats across the English Channel and fly 4,000 miles (6,400 km) to Rwanda.

Immigrants have long used northern France as a starting point for reaching Britain, either by hiding in trucks or boats – or other small boats organized by dinghies and smugglers – since the corona virus outbreak closed in 2020. More than 28,000 people entered the UK in small boats last year, up from 8,500 in 2020. Dozens were killed, including 27 when a boat capsized in November.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said action was needed to prevent “disgusting kidnappers from abusing victims and turning the channel into a water-filled grave.”

In a speech near Channel Beach, Johnson said “anyone who enters the UK illegally can now be transferred to Rwanda.”

The Rwandan government said the deal would initially last five years, and Britain paid 120 million ($ 158 million) to integrate housing and migrants.

Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Bruda said the agreement was “to ensure that people are protected, respected, empowered to pursue their own ambitions and, if they choose, to immigrate permanently to Rwanda.”

He said more than 130,000 refugees from countries including Burundi, Congo, Libya and Pakistan were already in his country.

Johnson denied that the plan was “ruthless” but acknowledged that it would inevitably face legal challenges and would not take effect immediately.

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and competition for land and resources has sparked decades of racial and political tensions, culminating in the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hoods were killed trying to protect them. Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the current government of President Paul Gagam as repressive.

However, Johnson stressed that Rwanda has “completely changed” over the past two decades.

The UK says migration results will not be based on the country of immigration’s, but will depend on whether they used “illegal or dangerous means” to reach the UK from a safe country like France. Not all such arrivals are considered suitable for sending to Rwanda; It is not clear what the criteria for making decisions are.

Previous policies for sending refugee applicants abroad are highly controversial.

In 2013, Australia began sending asylum seekers by boat to Papua New Guinea and the small Atoll in Nauru, promising that no one would be allowed to settle in Australia. This policy ended the sea route of human trafficking from Southeast Asia, but was widely criticized as brutally canceling Australia’s international obligations.

Between 2014 and 2017, Israel sent thousands of people to Rwanda and Uganda under a controversial and secretive “volunteer” program. Some are believed to have been there because some were trying to reach Europe.

Steve Waldes-Symonds, Amnesty International’s director of refugees in the UK, said the British government’s “shocking misconceptions go a long way in wasting large sums of public money and causing more misery.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the UK-based Refugee Council, called it “dangerous, atrocious and inhumane.”

Rwandan opposition leader Victor Ingabre told the AP that his government’s decision to admit immigrants was questionable and that the country was also a source of refugees.

“Rwanda continues to be ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, but at the same time its people continue to be unhappy,” he said.

The British and French governments have worked for years to stop cross-channel travel, without much success, and often change the blame for who is to blame for the failure.

The Conservative government of Britain has put forward proposals that are not all workable, including the creation of a wave machine in the channel to drive boats backwards. Johnson said Thursday that the Royal Navy would be responsible for responding to small ferry crossings, but rejected the idea of ​​pushing ships towards France as too dangerous.

Many of the sites previously proposed for the UK to send immigrants, including the remote Ascension Island, Albania and Gibraltar, were sometimes angrily rejected by questionable countries.

The Rwanda project faces obstacles in Britain’s parliament and courts. Johnson’s Conservative government has introduced a tough new immigration bill that will make it harder for people entering the country to seek asylum in unauthorized ways and allow asylum seekers to be screened abroad. It has not yet been approved by Parliament, and the House of Lords is seeking to dilute some of its most egregious rules.

Opposition politicians have accused the government of trying to divert attention from corruption in government parties that have violated the epidemic.. Johnson opposes calls for the parties to resign after being fined by police.

The Rwandan plan may please some Conservative supporters and get headlines, but it is “inactive, costly and unethical,” said Labor legislator Lucy Powell.

“I think it’s about dealing with small boats and the prime minister’s own sinking boat,” Powell told the BBC.

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Ignatius Susuna in Kigali, Rwanda and Andy Meltrum in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed to the story.

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Follow AP’s migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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