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Rwanda asylum plan is ‘unacceptable’, UN refugee agency warns

Written by on 16 April 2022

The government’s plan to send illegal migrants to Rwanda is an “egregious breach” of international and refugee law, the UN’s refugee agency has warned.

Home Secretary Priti Patel this week signed a deal with the East African country to fly some people who illegally arrive in the UK there to seek asylum instead.

In the 24 hours to Friday, 181 migrants in six boats were intercepted on small boats in the Channel, the Ministry of Defence said.

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Border control bring Channel mirants on land at Dover  1:02 Migrants’ Dover arrival after Rwanda announcement

Gillian Triggs, assistant secretary-general at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), described it as “unacceptable” and a “troubling development” during the Ukraine refugee crisis.

Read more:
Why are migrants being sent to Rwanda and how will it work?

Rwanda is 6,000 miles away from the UK Image: Rwanda is more than 4,000 miles away from the UK

More than 10 million Ukrainians are thought to have fled their homes because of the war, the UN estimates, with more than 4 million leaving for neighbouring countries.

Ms Triggs, who is Australian, was asked about the similar offshore immigration system in her country.

“My point is, just as the Australian policy is an egregious breach of international law and refugee law and human rights law, so too is this proposal by the United Kingdom government,” she told the BBC.

“It is very unusual, very few states have tried this, and the purpose is primarily deterrent – and it can be effective, I don’t think we’re denying that.

“But what we’re saying at the UN refugee agency is that there are much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome.”

She referred to a similar abandoned plan by Israel to send Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to Rwanda, claiming they “simply left the country and started the process all over again”.

Migrants are expected to be initially sent to Hope House hostel in Kigali, in Rwanda. Image: Migrants are expected to be sent initially to a hostel in the Rwandan capital of Kigali A view of facilities at Hope House, a hostel in Nyabugogo, the Gasabo district of the capital city Kigali, in Rwanda. Plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda from the UK are anticipated to initially see them taken to Hope House. Picture date: Thursday April 14, 2022.  Image: Inside Hope House, where migrants will stay while their asylum applications are processed

‘Breach of Geneva convention’

In an interview with The Guardian, Lord Dubbs said he believed the agreement breaches the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees.

“I think it’s a way of getting rid of people the government doesn’t want, dumping them in a distant African country, and they’ll have no chance of getting out of there again. You can’t just shunt them around like unwanted people.”

Announcing the plan this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he expected it to face legal challenges.

“We are confident that our new migration partnership is fully compliant with our international legal obligations, but nevertheless we expect this will be challenged in the courts,” he said.

Ms Patel, who signed the £120m deal in Kigali on Thursday, claimed it will soon be used as a “blueprint” for other countries, primarily Denmark.

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Tom Pursglove, who is minister for tackling illegal migration, is asked about Rwanda's history on LGBT rights - including on advice from the UK's Foreign Office. 10:25 Immigration minister defends Rwanda plan

“There is no question now that the model we have put forward, I’m convinced is world class and a world first, and it will be used as a blueprint going forward, there’s no doubt about that,” she said.

Home Secretary overruled top civil servants’ cost concerns

Questions have been raised about the cost of the scheme, which some have reported will be more expensive than “putting migrants up at the Ritz”.

It emerged yesterday that Ms Patel issued a “ministerial direction” over the Rwanda plan, which means she overruled senior Home Office officials’ financial objects to it.

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What does the government in Rwanda think of the migrant scheme? 7:43 What do Rwandans think of the scheme?

Responding to the reports, a Home Office source told Sky News: “Home Office officials are clear that deterring illegal entry would create significant savings. However, such a deterrent effect cannot be quantified with certainty.

“It would be wrong to let a lack of precise modelling delay a policy aimed at reducing illegal migration, saving lives, and breaking the business model of the smuggling gangs.”

The government claims the transfer of illegal migrants from the UK to Rwanda could start within weeks.

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