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UN, rights groups alarmed over British refugee deal with Rwanda

THE UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights groups have voiced their opposition to a deal signed between London and Kigali that would see thousands of illegal migrants in the UK resettled in Rwanda, or returned to their country of origin.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said to it was ‘strongly opposed’ to the UK’s plan to send illegally arrived asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Following the deal signed by British Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta in Kigali, the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for international protection, Gillian Triggs, said, ‘People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy.’

She added: ‘They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.’

£120 million deal

Speaking from Dover, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, saying that from now on anyone who entered the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since  January 1– could now be relocated to Rwanda.

‘Our compassion may be infinite, but our ability to help people is not,’ Johnson added.

Rwanda, a tiny, landlocked country of 13 million people with a bleak human rights record, already hosts some 133,000 refugees. This is five times the number per capita than Britain.

The agreement with Rwanda, which will be funded by the UK to the tune of £120 million, will see the migrants – whose nationalities and arrival conditions have not been specified – ‘integrated into communities across the country,’ a statement issued by Kigali said.

‘Cowardly’ and ‘ill-conceived’

Rights groups say refugee ‘outsourcing projects’ – such as Australia’s arrangements with Papua New Guinea and Nauru – have proved expensive, leading to mass detention and exacerbating human trafficking.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, director of refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International UK, denounced the deal as a ‘scandalously ill-conceived idea’ that would ‘cause suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money.’

Meanwhile, Refugee Action executive director Tim Naor Hilton called the deal a ‘cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war.’

Political opposition

For their part, Rwanda’s opposition have voiced their anger at the deal, saying western powers should ‘own up to international obligations on migration issues.’

The leader of Rwanda’s DALFA-Umurinzi party, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, said Kigali should solve its own socio-political failures that force Rwandans to leave their homeland before hosting refugees from other countries.

The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda agreed, saying wealthy countries such as Britain shouldn’t be using their ‘money and influence’ to enforce their will on others.

With its high population density and internal conflicts over land and resources, taking in migrants from the UK will increase the land burden and survival challenges Rwanda already faces.

Main points of the Migration and Economic Development Partnership

  • The UK-Rwanda deal concerns all migrants and asylum seekers who have illegally entered British territory since  January 1 2022.
  • The partnership will be in place for an initial period of five years.
  • Migrants arriving in Rwanda will have the option of applying for asylum and resettle there, or be helped to return to their country of origin.
  • Migrants will be subject to a screening procedure, especially for a potential criminal record.
  • To date, the majority of migrants concerned are from African countries, but also include people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, among others.
  • Illegal migrants in the UK from Rwanda’s regional neighbours will not qualify for the programme (Burundi, DRC, Uganda, Tanzania).
  • The amount of migrants that can be processed under the deal is uncapped, and could number in the tens of thousands.
  • The UK will disburse €144million to provide opportunities for migrants, including secondary qualifications, vocational and skills training, language lessons and higher education opportunities.
  • Migrants will have the full protection of Rwandan law, equal access to employment and healthcare.
  • The people of Rwanda are expected to benefit from socio-economic programmes, training and education opportunities as result of the partnership

Legal challenges expected

In the UK, the political opposition has also denounced the ‘inhumanity’ of the project.

Even within the ranks of the ruling Conservative Party, critics have called the deal a “huge attempt to divert attention” from Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ setbacks.

The British Parliament is, meanwhile, set to pass a law that could allow for the creation of centres abroad to deport migrants while their applications are processed or authorise the coastguard to push migrant boats out of British waters.

The UNHCR says the law, if passed, would contravene the Geneva Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a signatory.

Meanwhile, Johnson said he was anticipating legal challenges to the deal from what he called ‘politically motivated lawyers.’


David Coffey with RFI

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