The UK on Thursday (14 April) unveiled an agreement with Rwanda that will see them send thousands of asylum seekers to the East African country to have their applications processed, but the controversial deal is likely to spark legal challenges.
The two governments say that the “partnership will disrupt the business model of organised crime gangs and deter migrants from putting their lives at risk.
Under the programme, which will see the UK pay Rwanda £120 million (€150 million), potentially thousands of asylum seekers arriving in the UK will be flown one way to Rwanda, where their cases will be dealt with. While in Rwanda, they will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, with equal access to employment and enrolment in healthcare and social care services.
The scheme will initially process the claims of single men arriving on boats or lorries.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the scheme would “save countless lives” from human trafficking.
“We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system,” the prime minister said. “Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.”
Although it is unclear precisely how many asylum seekers will be covered under the agreement, negotiations with Kigali have been going on for months. However, government ministers repeatedly denied that such a deal was on the cards.
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel officially announced the Rwanda-UK Migration and Economic Development Partnership in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, with Patel describing it as a “global first, and it will change the way we collectively tackle illegal migration”.
“There is a global responsibility to prioritise the safety and well-being of migrants, and Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants and offer them legal pathways to residence,” said Biruta.
“This is about ensuring that people are protected, respected, and empowered to further their own ambitions and settle permanently in Rwanda if they choose.”
However, the agreement is very likely to face a legal challenge, with NGOs and human rights lawyers arguing that the outsourcing of asylum claims without appropriate legal protections breaks international law.
Denmark has a similar arrangement, also with Rwanda, for which it changed national law to allow it to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside the EU. In response, the European Commission expressed concerns that the Danish law could breach EU law.
The UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, includes a provision to create offshore immigration processing centres for asylum seekers.
The United Nations high commission for refugees has warned that outsourcing asylum claims would leave the UK in breach of its international obligations.
After being torn apart by a genocide in 1995 that left over half a million people dead, Rwanda has seen an economic and social resurgence. The country also already provides refuge for almost 130,000 refugees, primarily from neighbouring countries.
However, despite enjoying good diplomatic standing across most of Europe, the government of President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 2000, has a poor human rights record, with the UK itself stating last January that it was “concerned, however, by continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom”.
London urged the Kagame government to “conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture, and bring perpetrators to justice.”
[Edited by Alice Taylor]