BRITISH Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek to move on from the uproar caused by his Covid-19 lockdown fine by announcing a plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda to be processed as a possible solution to the problem of cross-Channel migration.
Johnson will set out the initiative in a speech on Thursday in Kent, south-east England, where thousands of migrants landed on Channel beaches in small boats last year, as he targets illegal immigration, which is a concern for many in his party.
Britain’s Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel has travelled to Rwanda, where she will outline the plan to set up a holding centre, which The Times newspaper reported would cost an initial £120 million ($158 million).
A government minister said the plan was focused on single young men. ‘This is about male economic migrants in the main,’ Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart told UK’s Sky News. ‘There is a different set of issues with women and children.’
Last year, more than 28,000 migrants and refugees made the crossing from mainland Europe to Britain. The arrival of migrants on rickety boats has been a source of tension between France and Britain, especially after 27 migrants drowned when their dinghy deflated in November.
Johnson will announce plans to tackle people smuggling-gangs and increase British operations in the Channel, his office said. He will say the plan represents a commitment to voters who backed the Brexit campaign he led.
‘Before Christmas 27 people drowned, and in the weeks ahead there may be many more losing their lives at sea, and whose bodies may never be recovered,’ Johnson will say.
‘Around 600 came across the Channel yesterday. In just a few weeks this could again reach a thousand a day.’
Johnson has faced renewed calls to resign after being fined by police on Tuesday for attending a gathering for his birthday in June 2020 when social mixing was all but banned under Covid-19 rules his government had introduced.
Opposition parties criticised the plan, which they said had been timed to distract from Covid rule-breaking.
Patel’s Labour party counterpart, Yvette Cooper, said: ‘Priti Patel’s Rwanda plan is extortionate as well as unworkable and unethical.’
Cooper cited the cost of Australia’s policy of holding asylum-seekers in offshore camps, saying Australia Refugee Council figures showed it had cost the equivalent of £1.7 million per person.
In Thursday’s speech, Johnson will accept that migrants are seeking a better life but say their dreams are being exploited by people-smugglers.
‘So just as Brexit allowed us to take back control of legal immigration by replacing free movement with our points-based system, we are also taking back control of illegal immigration, with a long-term plan for asylum in this country,’ Johnson will say.
The head of a refugee advocacy group said the plan flew in the face of the principle of granting asylum seekers a fair hearing on British soil.
‘I think it’s rather extraordinary that the government is obsessing with control instead of focusing on competence and compassion,’ Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told BBC radio.
The government has been struggling to come up with solutions as the number of Channel crossings has increased.
A previous idea for the British navy to turn the boats back was rejected by the military. It has also looked at housing asylum seekers on disused oil rigs, or in countries such as Moldova, Papua New Guinea and its remote overseas territories in the south Atlantic, according to newspaper reports.
Rwanda had been the front-runner for such a scheme, reports said, despite Britain previously raising concerns about human rights violations in the country as recently as last year.