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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Britain outraged over plans to take asylum seekers to Rwanda

By Jill Lawless – The Associated Press

LONDON ( Associated Press) – Britain’s Conservative government has struck a deal with Rwanda to send some asylum seekers to the East African country thousands of miles away, a move that has been criticized by opposition politicians and refugee groups as inhumane, impractical and a waste of public money. condemned as a waste.

Home Secretary Priti Patel visited Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Thursday, with the two countries signing an “economic development partnership”. The plan would see some who arrive in Britain as stowaways on trucks or small boats across the English Channel taken over by the UK government and apparently flying 4,000 miles (6,400 km) for good.

Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either hiding on trucks or ferries, or – since the coronavirus pandemic closed other routes in 2020 – held by smugglers In dinghies and other small boats. Last year more than 28,000 people entered the UK on small boats, up from 8,500 in 2020. Dozens of people, including 27 people, were killed when a boat capsized in November.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that action is needed to stop “despicable smugglers (who) are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a waterlogged graveyard”.

In a speech near the Channel coast, Johnson said, “Anyone who is entering the UK illegally … can now be transferred to Rwanda.”

The Rwanda government said Britain had paid 120 million pounds ($158 million) to pay for housing and integrating migrants. It said they would be given “many opportunities to build a better life in a country that is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world.”

Johnson denied there was a “lack of compassion” in the move, but acknowledged that it would inevitably lead to legal challenges and would not be effective immediately.

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and competition for land and resources has already fueled decades of ethnic and political tensions, which culminated in the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed and defended. The Hutus who tried were killed. Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the current government of President Paul Kagame for being repressive.

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However, Johnson insisted that Rwanda had “completely changed” in the past two decades.

Britain says transfer decisions will not be based on the migrants’ country of origin, but on whether they have used “illegal or dangerous routes” to reach Britain from a safe country such as France. Not all such arrivals will be considered fit for deportation to Rwanda; It was not clear what the decision-making criteria would be.

Past policies for sending refugee applicants abroad have been highly controversial.

In 2013, Australia began allowing asylum seekers to reach the country by boat in the small atolls of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, promising that no one would be allowed to settle in Australia. The policy ended the smuggling of people from Southeast Asia, but was widely criticized as a brutal abdication of Australia’s international obligations.

Israel sent several thousand people to Rwanda and Uganda between 2014 and 2017 under a controversial and secret “voluntary” plan. Some people are believed to have remained there, many of whom were trying to reach Europe.

Amnesty International UK refugee director Steve Valdez-Symonds said the British government’s “shockingly wrong idea would go a long way in causing suffering while wasting enormous amounts of public money.”

The chief executive of the UK-based Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, called it a “brutal and bad decision” and predicted it would not stop people trafficking gangs.

Rwanda’s opposition figure Viktoire Ingbire told the Associated Press that his government’s decision to take in the migrants was questionable, given that the country is also a source of refugees.

“Rwanda has consistently ranked (as) one of the safest countries in the world, but also consistently a country where its residents are unhappy,” she said.

The British and French governments have worked to prevent cross-Channel travel for many years, with no success, often swapping charges about who is to blame for the failure. Last year, Britain agreed to give France 54 million pounds ($74 million) to help double the police patrolling French beaches.

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Britain’s Conservative government has issued proposals, including building a wave machine in the Channel to propel boats back. Johnson said the Royal Navy would take charge of responding to small boat crossings, but the idea of ​​pushing the ships back to France was dismissed as too dangerous.

Several previously proposed locations for Britain to send migrants – including remote Ascension Islands, Albania and Gibraltar – were at times, angrily, rejected by the nations themselves.

The Rwanda plan faces obstacles both in the UK parliament and in the courts. Johnson’s Conservative government has introduced a tough new immigration bill that would make it more difficult for people entering the country by unauthorized routes to claim asylum and allow asylum seekers overseas to be screened. It has yet to be ratified by parliament, with the House of Lords seeking to dilute some of its most stringent provisions.

Opposition politicians accused the Conservative government of trying to divert attention from a scandal involving government parties in violation of pandemic lockdown rules. Johnson was among dozens of people this week who police fined parties, making him the first British leader to break the law while in office.

He is opposing the call for resignation of opponents and some MPs of his own party.

Labor legislator Lucy Powell said the Rwanda plan may appease some conservative supporters and grab headlines, but it was “impractical, costly and unethical”.

“I think it’s less about dealing with smaller boats and more about dealing with the prime minister’s own sinking boat,” Powell told the BBC.

Ignatius Susuna in Kigali, Rwanda and Andy Meldrum in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed to this story.

Follow Associated Press’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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