Mixed reactions trail UK-Rwanda asylum scheme
The UK and Rwanda, recently, reached an agreement styled the ‘UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership’, where illegal migrants and asylum seekers in the UK will be relocated and resettled in Rwanda.
The UK government is of the opinion that the resettlement scheme will help curb illegal migration into the UK and tackle human trafficking.
Britain, however, has vowed to pursue its controversial policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after the first flight was cancelled following a legal ruling.
The number of immigrants on the Tuesday flight had dwindled from an original 130 to seven, and finally, none, after a last minute order by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The illegal immigrants to be resettled are from Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and others. British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said she was disappointed that ‘legal challenge and last minute claims’ meant the plane did not take off, but insisted the heavily criticised programme would go ahead.
“We will not be deterred. Our legal team is reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now,” she said in a statement.
The grounding followed an ECHR ruling that, at least, one of the asylum seekers should stay in Britain, as there were no guarantees for his legal future in Rwanda, an East African country thousands of miles (kilometres) away.
Patel called the ECHR intervention ‘very surprising’ and said, “Many of those removed from this flight will be placed on the next.”
Rwanda also said it remained committed to taking in the asylum seekers under the April deal, which has come under fire from the UN, rights groups and church leaders.
“We are not deterred by these developments. Rwanda stands ready to receive the migrants when they do arrive and offer them safety and opportunity in our country,” government spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo, told AFP.
Legal challenges in recent days had failed to stop the deportation policy, which the Church of England leaders described as ‘immoral’ and ‘shames Britain’.
“We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard international law, which protects the right to claim asylum,” Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell wrote in a letter to The Times.
It was reported last weekend that Queen Elizabeth II’s heir, Prince Charles, had privately described the government’s plan as ‘appalling’.
But Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, said: “The people who are immoral in this case are the people traffickers trading on human misery.”
Truss said she could not put a figure on the cost of the charter flight, which has been estimated at upwards of £250,000 ($303,000).
But she insisted it was ‘value for money’ to reduce the long-term cost of irregular migration, which the government says costs UK taxpayers £1.5 billion a year, including £5 million a day on accommodation.
Johnson has told his senior ministers the policy was the right thing to do. A lawyer, Henry Ugwu said irrespective of its position, the UK government is presenting to the world an offshore migration processing deal and the real purpose for the deal is migration control.
“What is playing out under the guise of the deal is arguably an externalisation of migration control,” he said.
According to him, the UK had primarily initiated the deal to prevent illegal migrants from reaching its border and to discourage them from contemplating migration to the UK as a viable option in their search for safe haven or greener pastures.
Ugwu noted that this type of migration control has existed in developed countries like the U.S., Australia and the European Union, who employed similar strategies to discourage migration into their territories.
He explained that there are many problems associated with such migration control mechanisms because it puts many migrants at risk of exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment and other violations of their human rights.
“Asylum seekers, who are fleeing persecution from their home countries, will also be prevented from having their asylum claim efficiently evaluated,” he said.
He stressed that Rwanda, the destination choice of UK, has a poor human rights track record and dire economic issues, which implies that asylum seekers and other migrants will be put in a very difficult position and not be afforded access to standard reception, living conditions and economic opportunities as a means to support themselves.
“Thousands of migrants from many countries including Afghanistan, Syria, and even Nigeria, will be at the receiving end of this deal. The UK government does not seem bothered that the execution of the UK-Rwanda asylum scheme will infringe the human rights protections available to asylum-seekers under the Refugee Convention and numerous human rights treaties.
“This deal will present practical challenges to access to haven by asylum-seekers, it will also enhance pushbacks, and further jeopardise their vulnerable position,” Ugwu said.
He noted that Rwanda, which is not heavily criticised, unlike the UK, by the media and other commentators for its role in this, would benefit financially from this deal.
“Rwanda is going to benefit financially from the UK since it has allowed itself to be a tool in the execution of this migration control. Like all other third world countries that have been recruited by developed nations in similar schemes, e.g., Libya, Turkey, and Nauru, Rwanda is motivated by the assistance it stands to gain at a time when it is battling pressing economic issues.
“In all, this deal is a drawback to the creation of a system that would protect and guarantee the human rights of asylum-seekers and other migrants,” Ugwu stated.
Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGOs), Oyebisi Oluseyi, said the plan signals a bad trend for individuals seeking asylum.
He noted, however, that while the plan has been developed to curb people smuggling, it is a shift of the international responsibility or obligation that the UK and other governments have to asylum seekers.
He said that such plans have worked for some countries, so, if it works, it could lead to a global adoption disregarding the provisions in international laws.
“We must note though that Australia and Denmark have similar plans, which has succeeded in reducing people smuggling through the sea, the UK’s plan in this regards could lead to a global adoption largely undermining the protection guaranteed by an asylum system established under international laws. Regardless of how they arrive, countries have the obligations to respect international laws on asylum.
Convener, Future Leadership Conference, Mark Idiahi, said the development is appalling and it’s wrong to transport people like commodities. Is Rwanda a dumping ground for people whose nations cannot take care of?” he asked.
Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), described the plan to deport asylum seekers as racist, unlawful and discriminatory, which is inconsistent and incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations.
In a letter addressed to UK’s Prime minister, Boris Johnson, he said: “I am writing to urge you to provide the leadership necessary for the UK government to immediately halt the patently unlawful and discriminatory plan to send asylum seekers and refugees who flee conflict and persecution to Rwanda, and to comply with the UK’s international legal obligations.
“I note that you announced on April, 14 2022 that under the UK and Rwanda’s new migration and economic development partnership, anyone entering the UK illegally, as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1, may now be relocated to Rwanda.
“I also note that the UK government simultaneously published a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), in which it concluded with the government of Rwanda for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement. The MoU foresees the transfer of ‘asylum seekers whose claims are not being considered by the United Kingdom, to Rwanda, which will process their claims and settle or remove (as appropriate) individuals after their claim is decided,” he said.
Falana expressed concern that the Home Office is offering to fly asylum seekers and refugees back to the conflict zones they escaped from in the first instance, if they do not wish to be sent to Rwanda.
According to Falana, asylum seekers and refugees are being sent to Rwanda because of their method of reaching the UK – generally crossing the Channel to enter the UK. The largest nationality groups affected, he noted, seem to be Afghans, Iranians and Sudanese. “Sudanese refugees reportedly represent more than a third of those being sent to Rwanda.
“This patently racist, unlawful and discriminatory plan is inconsistent and incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations, and commitments to refugees. The UK authorities cannot and should not escape their international legal obligations to asylum seekers and refugees and push to shift such obligations to another country,” he declared.
According to him, the MoU and plan to send asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda blatantly violate UK’s legal obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; the Convention against Torture; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“It is patently unlawful and discriminatory for the UK government to penalise asylum seekers and refugees who belong to a group of nationalities simply because of their alleged irregular entry into the UK. The MoU and plan to send asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda may also violate the internationally recognised right to non-refoulement, and lead to violations of other human rights.
“You will agree with me that the MoU cannot be justified under international law as both UK and Rwanda are states parties to the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.
Falana noted that sending asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda, will amount to double jeopardy for asylum seekers and refugees, denying them their internationally recognised human rights in the UK, while also exposing them to the risks of grave human rights violations in Rwanda.
He explained that UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already raised a number of concerns about the asylum process in Rwanda, including discriminatory access to asylum, a lack of legal representation and interpreters, and difficulties in launching an appeal.
He added that UK exhibited hypocrisy by dumping their refugees in Rwanda after it has previously accused Rwandese government of violating the human rights of its own people, while also denying them access to justice and effective remedies.
“As you are no doubt aware, the rights of the refugees to effective remedies cannot be guaranteed as Rwanda has withdrawn its declaration to the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which allows direct access of individuals and NGOs to the court,” Falana said.
He urge Johnson to immediately halt any plan to send asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda, and to fully and effectively respect, protect, promote and fulfil their human rights to equality, equal treatment and non-discrimination, consistent with the UK’s international legal obligations.