Le Pays De France - UK to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda

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UK to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda
UK to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda / Photo: © AFP

UK to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda

Britain is to send migrants and asylum-seekers who cross the Channel thousands of miles away to Rwanda, according to a controversial deal announced Thursday as the government tries to clamp down on record numbers of people making the perilous journey.

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The plan swiftly drew the ire of opposition politicians who accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of trying to distract from his being fined for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules, while rights groups slammed the project as "inhumane".

Johnson, who was expected to detail the plan later on Thursday, was elected partly on promises to curb illegal immigration, but his term has so far been marked by record numbers of Channel crossings.

Ghana and Rwanda had previously been mentioned as possible locations for the UK to outsource the processing of migrants, but Ghana in January denied involvement.

Instead, Kigali on Thursday announcing that it had signed a multi-million-dollar deal to do the job, during a visit by British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

"Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants, and offer them legal pathways to residence" in the East African nation, Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said in a statement.

The deal with Rwanda will be funded by the UK to the tune of up to 120 million pounds ($157 million, 144 million euros), with migrants "integrated into communities across the country," it said.

"This is about ensuring that people are protected, respected, and empowered to further their own ambitions and settle permanently in Rwanda if they choose," said Biruta.

- Backlash -

In Britain, Refugee Action's Tim Naor Hilton accused the government of "offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe's former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet".

"This grubby cash-for-people plan would be a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war," he said.

Detention Action pointed to Rwanda's sketchy human rights record, saying those sent there would "likely face indefinite detention under a government notorious for violent persecution of dissent."

"At the same time, the UK currently gives asylum to Rwandan refugees fleeing political persecution," the advocacy group said in a statement.

Scotland's Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the plan showed that the Conservative government was "institutionally racist".

The government "rightly provides asylum and refuge to Ukrainians fleeing war, but wants to send others seeking asylum thousands of miles away to Rwanda for 'processing'," Yousaf tweeted.

Details about the plan -- to whom it would apply and whether it will be voluntary -- are still to be made public.

- People smugglers -

Johnson was to unveil the plan in a speech in Kent, near the port of Dover where many migrants and asylum seekers arrive on rickety boats from France.

His office said that he would highlight the danger of such crossings and the role of smuggling gangs in seeking to make the case for stronger enforcement of the laws.

"Before Christmas, 27 people drowned and in the weeks ahead there may be many more losing their lives at sea," he was expected to say, adding illegal immigration had "bedevilled our country for too long and caused far too much human suffering and tragedy.

"I accept that these people... are in search of a better life; the opportunities that the United Kingdom provides and the hope of a fresh start," Johnson is expected to add.

"But it is these hopes -- these dreams -- that have been exploited. These vile people smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard.

"We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system. Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not."

The plan aims to "break the business model of people smuggling gangs, step-up our operations in the Channel, bring more criminals to justice and end this barbaric trade in human misery," said his office, without adding any detail.