Boris Johnson’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is illegal, the United Nations said today, with its refugee agency slamming the proposal as an ‘egregious breach of international law’.
The Government announced this week it plans to provide failed asylum seekers, including those crossing the Channel in small boats, with a one-way ticket to Rwanda, where they will have the right to apply to live in the African country.
Gillian Triggs, a UNHCR assistant secretary-general, said the agency ‘strongly condemns outsourcing the primary responsibility to consider the refugee status’, as proposed by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Boris Johnson’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has today been slammed as an ‘egregious breach of international law’ and ‘really unacceptable’ by the United Nation’s refugee agency. Pictured: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the command room at the ‘Maritime rescue coordination centre’ in Dover, Britain, April 14, 2022
Migrants travelling to the UK on small boats will be put on jets and sent to Rwanda while their applications are processed. Pictured: A map detailing the plan proposed by the Prime Minister
Pictured: Migrants wait to disembark at the Port of Dover after being rescued while crossing the English Channel near Dover, April 15, 2022
Put to her that Australia had effectively deployed a similar tactic to cut migration numbers, Ms Triggs said: ‘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.
‘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 said attempting to ‘shift responsibility’ for asylum seekers arriving in Britain was ‘really unacceptable’.
Ms Triggs pointed out that Israel had attempted to send Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to Rwanda, but that they ‘simply left the country and started the process all over again’.
‘In other words, it is not actually a long-term deterrent,’ she added.
In response to the UNHCR, the Home Office insisted to the MailOnline that ‘Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers.’ It noted that the UNHCR has previously sad the country is safe for refugees.
“Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws, and will ensure their protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or being returned to the place they originally fled,’ the Home Office’s statement said.
‘There is nothing in the UN Refugee Convention which prevents removal to a safe country’,’ it added.
Mr Johnson last night pledged the first flights could take off within just six weeks, and said he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to push through his landmark scheme to tackle the small-boats crisis in the Channel and smash people trafficking gangs.
Revealing details of the dramatic strategy, Mr Johnson said ‘tens of thousands’ of Channel migrants would be sent to the East African nation – 4,000 miles away.
The Daily Mail understands the first flight is expected to leave before the end of next month – and the scheme will be back-dated to cover all those who have arrived in the UK since the start of the year.
Meanwhile on Friday, at least 50 migrants arrived in the UK by boat on the first official day of Navy patrols in the Channel.
Between 25 and 30 migrants reached the Dover harbour, Kent around 2.30am Friday morning before a second group, of around 30 people, was escorted to shore on board Border Force cutter Valiant shortly before 10am.
The Home Office and the MoD are yet to confirm the official number of migrants to arrive in the UK today, or on Wednesday or Thursday – but it is thought more than 1,000 people made the perilous crossing.
According to official Home Office figures, at least 4,617 people have reached the UK by small boat so far this year but recent arrivals could bring the total number of migrant crossings for 2022 to more than 5,500.
A view of facilities at Hope House, a hostel in Nyabugogo, the Gasabo district of the capital city Kigali, in Rwanda – where migrants shipped from Britain will initially be taken
How will the new Rwanda migrant scheme work?
Cross-channel arrivals assessed and anyone deemed an economic migrant rather than a refugee is sent to Rwanda
- Initial agreement worth £120million over five years
- Failed immigrants urged to start new life in Africa
- Initially based at hostel in Kigali
- Hope House is currently being used as budget accommodation for tourists
- Privately owned, the East African nation’s government is understood to be in negotiations to lease the property
- Memorandum of understanding (MOU) says Government will screen asylum seekers ‘without delay’ after arrival in the UK
- All requests will require approval from Rwanda before relocation
- Nation can refuse to take people with criminal records
- People who cross the Channel in small boats will undergo initial checks at the Western Jet Foil facility in Dover
- Further checks at a processing site in Manston, Kent. Where their claim is deemed inadmissible, they may be removed to a ‘third safe country’.
- Royal Navy to lead Channel policing role, helping Border Force from today
- PM attacked ‘a formidable army of politically motivated lawyers’ who have thwarted previous action
- PM: ‘Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not. We can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here.’
Ms Patel agreed a £120 million economic deal while in Kigali on Thursday, and money for each removal is expected to follow, with reports suggesting each migrant sent to Rwanda is expected to set British taxpayers back between £20,000 and £30,000.
The Times said this would cover accommodation both before and after the journey, as well as the cost of a seat on the flight itself.
The Royal Navy has been put in charge of policing the Channel as part of the reform package announced this week, in a bid to curb the number of small boat crossings.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that, in the 24-hour period up to 11.59pm on Thursday April 14, the navy detected 562 migrants in 14 small boats in the strait.
The department said it did not believe any migrants arrived ‘on their own terms in a small boat’ on Thursday, but on Good Friday women, children and single men were among hundreds of people brought ashore.
Naval ships were spotted towing empty dinghies used by people smugglers back to the UK after those on board were offloaded on to boats operated by Border Force, which is part of the Home Office.
Tom Pursglove, minister for justice and tackling illegal migration, said on Friday that the policy was ‘in line’ with the UK’s legal obligations.
However, he accepted that it would be ‘difficult’ to implement the plan to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda, with the Government braced for legal challenges.
He told Times Radio: ‘I think what is also really important to make (clear) in dealing with that issue is that, at all times, we act in accordance with our international obligations, the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) and the refugee convention.
‘We are absolutely confident that our policies are in line with that and entirely compliant, which by extension would mean that those legal challenges would be without merit.
‘But it will be difficult, there will be challenges.’
Mr Pursglove also suggested during broadcast interviews that other countries in Europe were considering emulating the UK’s Rwandan policy, which he described as a ‘world first’.
Welcome to Rwanda: Regime in genocide-haunted country accused of murder, kidnapping and torture
Rwanda is a landlocked country in central and eastern Africa best known in the west for the horrific 1994 ethnic genocide.
In just 100 days of a brutal civil war, up to 800,000 Tutsi people were murdered, with many of them hacked to death in their homes by armed militias of the Hutu majority.
Up to half a million women were raped as violence gripped the country, often with neighbours turning on neighbours.
The carnage provoked horror and condemnation around the world, and the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front later won the war and forced those responsible for the murder into exile.
But while the country is more stable today, it still has a highly questionable human rights record.
Earlier this week the US State Department produced its annual analysis of the country.
It reported ‘significant human rights issues’ with the Government, including:
- unlawful or arbitrary killings
- forced disappearance
- torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
- harsh and life-threatening prison conditions
- arbitrary detention
- political prisoners or detainees
- arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy
It added: ‘The government took some steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses and acts of corruption, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the state security forces was a problem.’
In a separate report, Amnesty International reports similar findings.
While noting the Kagame government had acted to help women prosecuted for having abortions, and to prosecute those accused of genocide, it added: ‘Violations of the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and privacy continued, alongside enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force.’
He said there was a ‘moral imperative’ to crush the business model of human traffickers and avoid a tragedy like that seen in November, when a dinghy sank in the English Channel, drowning dozens of migrants heading to Britain.
‘The point I would make is that what is cruel and inhumane is allowing evil criminal gangs to take advantage of people, to take their money, to put them in small boats, often with force, including women and children, to put them in the Channel with all the risks that that presents to human life,’ he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
‘We simply cannot allow that to happen, which is why we’ve introduced the new plan for immigration to stop these illegal journeys.’
The minister also argued that in the ‘longer term’ the scheme would save Britain money, with almost £5 million per day currently spent on accommodating those arriving in the country.
Former Tory international development secretary Andrew Mitchell questioned that, saying calculations had been made that suggested it would be cheaper to put those arriving in Britain up at The Ritz hotel in London’s Mayfair for a year.
The price of each migrant sent to Rwanda to the taxpayer is estimated to be between £20,000 and £30,000. This total figure will cover accommodation before departure, a seat on a chartered plane and their first three months of accommodation in Rwanda, the Times reports.
The government will also spend £50 million on bolstering surveillance in the Channel – including new ships, military drones, and a Wildcat helicopter.
Protests against the policy have come from opposition party politicians, human rights bodies and campaign groups, who branded the measures as ‘evil’, ‘cruel’ and ‘unethical’.
More than 160 British organisations – including Liberty, Stonewall and Greenpeace organised by Bond, the UK umbrella body of NGOs – all signed an open letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary in protest at the deal.
Ministers are braced for a fierce legal fight to stop opponents from scuppering the scheme before it starts. Mr Johnson accepted that the plan would be ‘challenged in the courts’, but insisted he was confident about its legality.
In a major speech in Kent yesterday, Mr Johnson accepted the Rwandan deal was not a ‘magic bullet’ that will solve the small-boats crisis.
But he said it would ‘save countless lives’ by breaking the business model of the ‘vile people smugglers’ who risk turning the Channel into a ‘watery graveyard’.
Officials expect thousands who entered the country by illegal means will be removed to Rwanda in the coming years.
Mr Johnson said arrangements with the African country will be ‘uncapped’, and it had the ‘capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead’.
He said the partnership will be ‘fully compliant with our international legal obligations’, but acknowledged the Government was braced for court challenges.
A migrant being helped ashore in a wheelchair. Between 25 and 30 migrants reached the Dover harbour, Kent around 2.30am this morning, before a second group
According to official Home Office figures, at least 4,617 people have reached the UK by small boat so far this year but recent arrivals could bring the total number of migrant crossings for 2022 to more than 5,500
‘If this country is seen as a soft touch for illegal migration by some of our partners, it is precisely because we have such a formidable army of politically motivated lawyers who for years have made it their business to thwart removals and frustrate the Government,’ he said.
‘So I know that this system will not take effect overnight, but I promise that we will do whatever it takes to deliver this new approach, initially within the limits of the existing legal and constitutional frameworks, but also prepared to explore any and all further legal reforms which may be necessary.’
Miss Patel insisted she was confident she would be able to fend off moves to thwart the plans in the courts. Asked if she is preparing for legal challenges, the Home Secretary said: ‘We have to. Well, in the same way in which our political opponents just sort of opine a view, condemn everything that the Government does.
‘Number one, they don’t have a plan. Number two, they just vote everything down constantly. And as for the lawyers, they are fleecing the British taxpayer. A lot of this is legal aid money that goes into the merry go round of claim after claim after claim.’
Pushed on whether the scheme was reliant on legislation going through Parliament that critics have threatened to vote down, Miss Patel said: ‘No, no, it’s not. The whole principle of this agreement partnership that we have is not hinged on the Nationality and Borders Bill, let me be clear about that.
‘In terms of domestic litigation, we have worked extensively… the level of detail (in the Memorandum of Understanding setting out the agreement) is forensic.’
The Law Society dismissed Mr Johnson’s criticism of lawyers. In a thinly veiled reference to Partygate, its president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘It is particularly disappointing – this week of all weeks – the Government is repeating misleading suggestions that legal challenges are politically motivated.
‘Legal challenges establish if the Government is abiding by its own laws. If the Government wishes to avoid losing court cases, it should act within the law of the land.’
British Red Cross executive director Zoe Abrams said it was ‘profoundly concerned’ about the proposal to ‘send traumatised people halfway round the world’.
The Refugee Council’s Enver Solomon urged the Government to ‘immediately rethink its plans’, and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the plan was ‘evil’.
Inside tourist hotel in Rwanda that will host Channel migrants flown 4,000 miles from the UK for up to three months in Australia-style plan to send them to country in desperate need of young men
Plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda from the UK are anticipated to initially see people taken to a hostel in the capital city for processing.
Hope House, a hostel in Nyabugogo, the Gasabo district of Kigali, is currently being used as accommodation for tourists, according to Rwandan government officials.
Privately owned, the East African nation’s government is understood to be in negotiations to lease the property so asylum seekers sent from the UK can stay there temporarily while their claims are processed. It is understood this could take up to three months.
Home Secretary Priti Patel made a private visit to the site today to see an example of what accommodation may be on offer.
Plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda from the UK are anticipated to initially see them taken to the former tourist hostel
This is understood to be Ms Patel’s first visit to Rwanda since the deal was thrashed out, after being briefed by Home Office and Foreign Office officials who have been researching the plan.
The complex has 50 rooms at present and can accommodate around 100 people with up to two people per room and sharing communal bathrooms.
But there are plans to expand the facility by building more accommodation blocks, eventually seeing it offer 150 rooms and be able to sleep up to 300 people.
Asylum seekers are expected to be provided meals three times a day to eat in a communal dining room, with some kitchen facilities also available for those with special dietary requirements.
The government’s plan has already faced a massive backlash, with claims that it is both cruel and expensive.
Dr Peter William Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory in Oxford, said it would face ‘all kinds of logistical challenges’.
He told MailOnline: ‘Australia’s offshore experiment was beset by all kinds of problems, with people unable to access healthcare, as well as high rates of suicide and abuse. Then there’s the financial side to it.
‘The Australian system was thought to be 800 times more expensive to house them offshore than in local centres. It cost one billion Australian dollars (£567m) to house fewer than 300 people.
‘There are so many questions about this plan and a lot of scepticism about whether it will actually come to pass given all the challenges it will face.’
Rwanda is best known in the west for a 1994 ethnic genocide that left up to 800,000 Tutsi people dead and it still has a mixed human rights records.
Amnesty International says there are still concerns over ‘enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force’.
Earlier this month the Refugee Minister Lord Harrington said there was ‘no possibility’ of migrants being sent there. But Boris Johnson today branded it ‘dynamic’ and one of the safest countries in the world.
Privately owned, the East African nation’s government is understood to be in negotiations to lease the property so asylum seekers sent from the UK can stay there temporarily while their claims are processed
The complex has 50 rooms at present and can accommodate around 100 people with up to two people per room and sharing communal bathrooms
It is understood Channel migrants will be processed in the UK and officials will decide whether they are a genuine asylum seeker.
If they are deemed to be economic migrants, they will be sent to Rwanda, where schemes will be put in place to help them build a new life.
It is thought that in other cases, all asylum processing will take place after the claimant arrives in Rwanda. Britain will pay the costs of their resettlement.
A source told the Telegraph that the British Army would be involved to prevent ‘battles on the quayside’, adding: ‘They will drive you to the airport and send you straight to Rwanda’.
The Refugee Council charity was among those to urge an immediate rethink of the plan, with chief executive Enver Solomon saying it would not work and would cost the taxpayer around £1.4billion a year as part of the while asylum system.
The United Nations refugee agency also expressed concern over the ‘shifting rather than the sharing of responsibilities’.
Labour and Mr Johnson’s Tory critics claimed it was an expensive move to switch attention away from the Partygate row which continues to embarrass No10.
At a press conference today, Priti Patel said the agreement with Rwanda ‘fully complies with all international and national law’.
She said the deal is ‘in keeping with our vision for global Britain that harnesses the potential for new relationships, and stimulates investments and jobs in partner countries’.
Home Secretary added: ‘Working together, the United Kingdom and Rwanda will help make the immigration system fairer, ensure that people are safe and enjoy new opportunities to flourish.’
She said people who enter the UK ‘illegally will be considered for relocation’ to have their claims decided, adding: ‘Those who are resettled will be given the support, including up to five years of training with the help of integration, accommodation, healthcare, so that they can resettle and thrive.’
She added that the UK is making a ‘substantial investment in the economic development of Rwanda’ which aims to develop the country’s economy and support its people.
‘This is very much, number one, a partnership,’ she said. ‘Clearly we engage in dialogue and we have been for over nine months now.
‘But Rwanda has a very unique history in terms of refugees and resettlement, resettlement in particular. First and foremost, Rwanda is a safe and secure country with the respect for the rule of law, and clearly a range of institutions that have evolved and developed over time.
‘If I may say so, Rwanda has been very forward leaning, and has been very dynamic in the conversations that we have had as well around, yes, economic growth and the partnership, but respect for people and giving them the ability to find new opportunities, but effectively restart their lives, rebuild careers, potentially, and settle here successfully.’