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Plan to fly asylum-seekers to Rwanda draws outrage

LONDON (AP) – Britain announced a deal with Rwanda on Thursday to send some asylum-seekers thousands of kilometres to the East African country – a plan it said would stop people-smugglers sending desperate migrants on treacherous journeys across the English Channel.

United Kingdom (UK) opposition politicians and refugee groups condemned the move as inhumane, unworkable and a waste of public money, and the United Nations (UN) said it raised ”a number of human rights concerns”.

The plan would see some people who arrive in Britain as stowaways on trucks or in small boats picked up by the UK government and flown 6,400 kilometres to Rwanda.

Johnson denied the plan was ”lacking in compassion” but acknowledged it would inevitably face legal challenges and would not take effect immediately.

He insisted that Rwanda had ”totally transformed” in the last two decades. But human rights groups have repeatedly criticised President Paul Kagame’s current government as repressive.

Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch Lewis Mudge said the claim Rwanda was a safe country ”is not grounded in reality”.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, England, following a small boat incident in the Channel. PHOTO: AP

”Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are flouted in many cases,” Mudge said.

Britain said relocation decisions will not be based on migrants’ country of origin but on whether they used ”illegal or dangerous routes” to reach the UK from a safe country such as France.

Not all such arrivals will be considered suitable to be sent to Rwanda; it was unclear what the criteria for making the decisions would be, though the British government said children would not be sent to the African country.

The UN’s human rights office said it had raised its ”concerns directly with the UK authorities”.

A spokeswoman for the office said the UK was ”shifting… its responsibilities and obligations under international human rights and refugee law onto a country which is already taking great asylum responsibilities”.

Refugee director at Amnesty International UK Steve Valdez-Symonds said the British government’s ”shockingly ill-conceived idea will go far further in inflicting suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money”.

The chief executive of the UK-based Refugee Council Enver Solomon called it ”dangerous, cruel and inhumane”.

Rwandan opposition figure Victoire Ingabire told The Associated Press that her government’s decision to take in migrants was questionable, given that the country is also a source of refugees.

The Rwanda plan faces hurdles both in Britain’s Parliament and in the courts. Johnson’s Conservative government has introduced a tough new immigration bill that would make it more difficult for people who enter the country by unauthorised routes to claim asylum and would allow asylum-seekers to be screened abroad. It has not yet been approved by Parliament, with the House of Lords seeking to dilute some of its most draconian provisions.

Labour Party lawmaker Lucy Powell said the Rwanda plan might please some Conservative supporters and grab headlines, but was ”unworkable, expensive and unethical”.