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UK to Rwanda: Why Britain’s new refugee plan is unethical and inhuman

Britain’s new policy to deal with irregular migrants unveiled this week has sparked a wave of criticism, including a comparison to the “language” of Nazi Germany

But the government led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has doubled down on implementing the law and even vowed to fight any legal challenges to the controversial move.

One of the clauses of the law involves sending migrants on a one-way ticket to Rwanda – 6,500 km away – which will process their asylum claims. Under a deal signed between the two countries in 2022, Britain has already paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($158 million) upfront to host the migrants.

However, Britain and Rwanda are not the only countries which have signed such refugee-swapping deals.   

Several European and Western countries have established programmes to send asylum-seekers to some African countries.

These controversial programmes offer financial aid to low-income countries in exchange for their cooperation. Critics say such programmes turn humanitarian causes into business deals that dehumanise the plight of people trying to escape persecution or natural disasters.

Human rights organisations also criticise such deals due to their lack of transparency and accountability, and concerns over the treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers in third-party countries.

READ MORE: UK court grants permission to appeal over Rwanda policy

Why Rwanda?

The Rwandan government says the deal to take in refugees from the UK gives the African country a chance to “take innovative action” to solve the global migration and asylum crisis. The plan would enable Rwanda to offer “safety and security to migrants and refugees while creating education, training, and employment opportunities for them”, it adds.

Experts, however, argue that Rwanda has more financial motivation to accept the offer.

Cevat Giray Aksoy of King’s College London and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) believes that Rwanda’s keenness to host migrants sent by the UK is economically driven.  

Rwanda faces challenges in getting foreign investments, and the deal would enable the country to receive funds needed to help achieve its national development goals, he adds. 

Critics also point out that Rwanda’s internal security and economic conditions are not very promising. Rwanda is among the most densely-populated nations in Africa, and competition for land and resources has, in the past, fueled long periods of ethnic and political tensions. In 1994, more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and many Hutus who tried to protect them were killed in one of the worst ethnic violence on the continent. 

Victoire Ingabire, a Rwandan opposition leader and staunch government critic, slammed the deal saying that it 1951 UN convention on refugees.

“Secondly, this is not the first attempt to send refugees to Rwanda. Between 2014 and 2017, Israel sent refugees to Rwanda. What happened to them? All refugees are back in Europe,” she tells TRT World. “A refugee who has arrived in a rich and democratic country will not agree to stay in a developing and non-democratic country like Rwanda.”

She feels that the only lasting solution to the migrant crisis is for “democratic governments to stop supporting dictatorial regimes that ignore the fundamental rights of their peoples and thus push them down the path of exile.”

Some Rwandans, however, consider the UK deal an extension of their country’s policy on refugees and migrants. 

“The situation on the ground is nothing new. Rwanda receives refugees regularly, and they have come from different borders…as we have had evacuees from Libya, DR Congo and others, so this is nothing new,” says Johnson Kanamujire, a resident of the capital Kigali.

“As for housing, there was a budget set aside for the move of refugees from the UK, and a portion of it will be used to help with their accommodation at selected hospitality facilities. They are not getting in the way of our housing either,” he tells TRT World.

‘Behaving like Russia’: Critics slam UK for ‘inhumane’ refugee bill

Past experience

In the past, several countries have also used offshoring policies for refugees and migrants.

Australia’s offshoring asylum programme was introduced in 2001, targeting migrants who arrive in Australian waters by boat to discourage dangerous ocean crossings and people smuggling.

Asylum-seekers were transferred to offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru for processing. 

Known as the Pacific Solution, the policy was dismantled in 2008 but revived in 2012 and became more restrictive in 2013, with people arriving by boat denied resettlement even if recognised as refugees. Since 2012, over 4,000 asylum-seekers, including children, have been sent to detention centres in Manus and Nauru, with some waiting over five years for their asylum claims to be processed. 

The policy was criticised for harsh conditions, besides abuse, self-harm, and depression among detainees. 

Fourteen people died in the centres, with the Human Rights Law Centre reporting cases of suicide, a lack of medical care, and attacks by local people. 

Manus Island’s facility was closed in 2021 after a ruling by Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court, with no official data available on how many people remain in detention.

In 2014, Israel implemented a policy to send asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, to Rwanda and Uganda for third-country resettlement. 

Those rejected were given the choice of returning to their home country or accepting $3,500 and a plane ticket to Uganda or Rwanda, with the threat of jail for those who stayed in Israel. 

Israel claims that around 20,000 people left Israel under this policy, but human rights groups criticised it, stating that refugees were sent to countries where their safety was not guaranteed. 

Many later escaped and paid smugglers to make the dangerous journey to Europe. The policy was suspended by the country’s Supreme Court and eventually scrapped in 2019.

In 2021, Denmark passed a law allowing refugees to be relocated to asylum centres in a third country while their claims are processed. Denmark is currently in talks with Rwanda regarding potential cooperation on migrants.

However, Danish officials claim that a deal with Rwanda would be a more dignified approach than the current migration process characterised by human trafficking.

UK to send first refugees to Rwanda as critics slam ‘evil trafficking’

Addressing root cause

According to research by the University of Oxford and the International Refugee Rights Initiative, those deported to Rwanda and Uganda earlier had their travel documents confiscated on arrival and were held in hotels with armed guards. 

Furthermore, such programmes do not address the root causes of migration, such as poverty, conflict, and the climate crisis. Instead, they focus on containment and deterrence, which may not ultimately reduce migration and may even make it more dangerous and irregular.

Critics say that these programmes might provide short-term solutions to political and social pressures in European countries and also provide financial support to African countries but raise ethical concerns and fail to address the underlying issues driving migration.

READ MORE: UK to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda from mid-June

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