UK Plan to Ship Asylum Seekers to Rwanda is Cruel
The United Kingdom and Rwanda have inked a deal to send people seeking asylum in the UK to the East African nation. There they will be given the option to stay in Rwanda, be sent home, or to try to seek asylum in any country other than the UK. The announcement, which drew swift criticism from refugee groups and UK opposition politicians, is raising moral and legal questions about a country’s obligation to asylum seekers.
A similar policy has been used in Australia since 2001 as a way to deter migrants from seeking refuge there. Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, says like Australia’s policy the UK’s decision is also ‘an egregious breach of international law, and refugee law, and human rights law’. A former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, she said such policies - as used in Australia - could be effective as a deterrent but there were "much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome".
The announcement came as part of a broader strategy to reduce the number of people entering the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats. The Royal Navy has taken operational command of the Channel from UK Border Force in an effort to detect every boat headed to the UK.
A number of lawyers have warned the plan will face legal obstacles, such as the international human rights principle of "non-refoulement" - which guarantees no one can be returned to a country where they would face irreparable harm.
Last year, the UK government raised concerns at the UN about allegations of "extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture" in Rwanda, as well as restrictions to civil and political rights. But justice and migration minister Tom Pursglove said Rwanda was a progressive country that wanted to provide sanctuary and had made "huge strides forward" in the past three decades.
The UK government has promised smooth operations, however, it is unclear how asylum seekers relocated from the UK might be accommodated in Rwanda, beyond temporary plans to convert a former hostel into a detention centre. There is also no sense of what will happen to those who are not granted asylum.
While western countries outsource migration management to low-income countries, these richer countries are furthering their own geopolitical interests. Human displacement is becoming a motor for what experts identify as 21st-century imperialism. Migration is not merely a consequence of poverty, inequalities, conflict and environmental crises. It is a political tool.
Sending asylum seekers to another country strips them of their right, as afforded by the International Refugee Convention, to have their cases considered in the country in which they have chosen to seek refuge. It denies them agency. It doubles their displacement. And it exposes them to prolonged uncertainty and further risk.
Comparing the Rwanda deal, then, with the safe haven opened up to Ukrainian refugees in recent weeks, it is clear that UK immigration policy is biased in terms of race, religion and skill-set.