LONDON (NYTIMES) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans on Thursday (April 14) to send some asylum-seekers thousands of miles to Rwanda for processing and settlement there if their applications were successful, in a significant hardening of migration policy.
The British government has so far failed to curb the arrival of a small but steady flow of people making dangerous crossings, often on unseaworthy boats, across the English Channel from France, much to the frustration of Johnson.
In exchange for its cooperation, Britain will pay Rwanda £120 million (S$200 million) to finance “opportunities for Rwandans and migrants,” including education, secondary qualifications, vocational and skills training, and language lessons, the Rwandan government said in a statement.
Rights groups have expressed concerns that the move could encourage other nations to adopt “offshoring” of asylum processing, and the plan was greeted with a storm of protest even before it was formally announced, because of concerns about both the principle behind the policy and the choice of Rwanda, a country whose rights record Britain has previously questioned.
In a speech on Thursday, Johnson said his plan could resettle thousands of migrants and would apply to those who had arrived since January, although legislation that would enable it is still going through Parliament.
He also conceded that the plan was likely to face legal challenges and “will not take effect overnight.”
Johnson also said that asylum-seekers would, on arrival in Britain, be housed in centres, rather than hotels, and that the navy would take an enhanced role in tackling the channel crossings.
“They’ll be housed in accommodations like those in Greece,” said Johnson, referring to the camps there, some of which have earned a reputation for dismal conditions.
Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary, said in a statement that the agreement with Rwanda would see “those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily into the UK relocated to have their claims for asylum considered and, if recognised as refugees, to build their lives there.”
The government has not made clear whether the plan will apply to all asylum-seekers arriving in Britain or just some. Johnson said it was “a striking fact that around 7 out of 10 of those arriving in small boats last year were men under 40, paying people smugglers to queue-jump and taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees.”
The Rwandan government said people who are transferred to the country would be offered “legal pathways to residence” if their claims were successful.
Given the limited legal routes for refugees into Britain, that could effectively prevent many from making any asylum claims that would allow them to live in the country.
“The government of Rwanda is pleased to confirm a bold new partnership with the United Kingdom, which will take an innovative approach to addressing the global migration crisis,” the government said in its statement.
“A broken migration and asylum system is failing to protect the vulnerable, and empowering criminal smuggling gangs at an immeasurable human cost.”