Thursday, December 8

Priti Patel finalises plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda | Immigration and asylum


People seeking asylum in the UK will be flown 4,500 miles to Rwanda as part of a government crackdown on unauthorized migrants to be announced by Boris Johnson.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, traveled to the central African country on Wednesday after finalizing a “migration and economic development partnership”.

The initiative comes as the prime minister prepares to disclose further plans on Thursday to break up the business model of people-smuggling gangs and increase UK operations in the Channel.

Referring to UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU, he will say: “We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system. Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.

“The British people voted several times to control our borders. Not to close them, but to control them.”

The deal with Rwanda follows three years of promises by Patel to outsource asylum processing to third countries and failures to strike deals with Albania and Ghana.

It is understood that the deal – described as “unworkable and unethical” by Labor – will mean that those seeking asylum in the UK will face the possibility of being flown to a camp in Rwanda.

But it remains unclear whether they will be sent there while their claims are processed, or if they will be expected to live there indefinitely.

A statement from No 10 said: “The home secretary will set out further details on a world-first migration and economic development partnership signed by the home secretary, Priti Patel, with Rwanda – one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa which is recognised. globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants.”

According to a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, detainees in the country suffer from arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial facilities.

The government has not yet explained how much the deal with Rwanda will cost the UK taxpayer; whether any camp at which asylum seekers are interned will be under UK jurisdiction; and how the UK government will seek to oversee the welfare of migrants.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the Rwandan proposal is a “shameful announcement meant to distract from Boris Johnson’s recent law-breaking.

“It is an unworkable, unethical and extortionate policy that would cost the UK taxpayer billions of pounds during a cost of living crisis and would make it harder not easier to get fast and fair asylum decisions,” she said.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it is waiting to see the bilateral agreement but expressed concern at the plans to send asylum seekers abroad.

“UNHCR does not support the externalization of asylum states’ obligations. This includes measures taken by States to transfer asylum seekers and refugees to other countries, with insufficient safeguards to protect their rights, or where this leads to the shifting rather than the sharing of responsibilities to protect refugees,” a spokesperson commented.

Reacting to the government’s planned crackdown, Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the government wanted to criminalize people for taking the wrong path to safety by reaching the UK.

“The government is choosing control and punishment above compassion despite the fact its own data shows that two thirds of men, women and children arriving in small boats come from countries where war and persecution has forced them from their homes.

“We urge this government to immediately rethink its plans which are in such stark contrast to what every Conservative prime minister since Churchill has sought to do by providing a fair hearing on British soil for those who claim asylum,” he said.

The government has so far failed to pass the necessary legislation to place so-called offshoring on the statute books.

The nationality and borders bill which will enable asylum seekers to be processed abroad, has not yet gained royal assent.

The Rt Revd Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, who proposed amendments to the bill, said: “Asylum seekers who arrive on our shores are our international responsibility and should be dealt with in our own land with the human dignity to which they are entitled .

“There are many questions about the parameters of any offshoring proposal that remain unanswered, including the financial cost, but primarily around the question of dignity.”

Denmark has previously struck a deal with the Rwandan government to accept recent migrants. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries last summer – but it remains unclear whether the Danish government has so far sent anyone to Rwanda.

Ministers led by Patel have seen Australian-style offshore processing centers – to which migrants would be flown within seven days of arriving in the UK – as a key potential deterrent to stem the record arises in Channel crossings.

Last month, she recruited the former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer to review the country’s border force, weeks after he had urged the UK to adopt a hardline on boat migrants.

Last year, Australian government figures showed that the country spent £461m processing 239 refugees and asylum seekers held offshore.

More than 4,600 people have arrived in the UK by small boat crossings since the start of the year, according to figures collected by the PA news agency.

On Wednesday, women and young children were among the passengers of several boatloads of people who crossed the Channel.

People in lifejackets and blankets have been seen arriving at Dover on Border Force vessels as well as at Dungeness aboard an RNLI lifeboat.


www.theguardian.com

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