In a speech in Kent on Thursday morning Boris Johnson outlined policy from the Nationality and Borders bill, now in the last stage prior to being ratified into law, allowing for asylum seekers to be flown 4,500 miles to Rwanda.
The policy, although not entirely clear, appears to allow for single male refugees hoping to seek asylum in the UK to be flown to Rwanda to seek asylum there instead. However, different ministers seem to disagree on whether the policy will allow for single women to be transported as well.
Once in Rwanda, Home Secretary Priti Patel says they will be given support for up to five years, covering training, accommodation and healthcare.
Patel also offered assurance that only those attempting to enter the country illegally, rather than using the “safe and legal” routes to seek asylum, will be able to be flown to Rwanda.
In 2021 the large numbers of people crossing the English Channel on dinghies to enter the UK reached record numbers, around 20,000 more people than in 2020, with 2022 set to have even more refugees making the crossing. The government hopes that this policy will dissuade people from making the dangerous crossing, along with an increase in the maximum sentence for people smugglers to life incarceration.
Of the migrant crisis and the government’s policy, Johnson said:
“This problem has bedevilled our country for too long and caused far too much human suffering and tragedy, and this is the government that refuses to duck the difficult decisions, this is the government that makes the big calls, and I profoundly believe there is simply no other option.”
“And I say to those who would criticise our plan today, we have a plan; what is your alternative?”
He went on to say that the policy will take some time to come into effect as he expects it to face several 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, and 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. So I know that this system will not take effect overnight.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said:
“Putting evil people smugglers out of business is a moral imperative. It requires us to use every tool at our disposal, and also to find new solutions. That is why today’s migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda is a major milestone.”
The policy has however been hounded by criticism from every direction.
Rwanda’s human rights record is questionable. Last year the UK criticised the Rwandan government for not having enough transparency regarding human rights, or doing enough to combat trafficking.
Rwanda has also conducted a similar scheme in the past with Israel, but those transported under the scheme reported only receiving a holiday visa and being encouraged to illegally enter other African countries.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“Treating people like human cargo by using the force of military to repel vulnerable people who have already endured extreme human suffering, and expelling them to centres in Rwanda, a country with a questionable record on human rights, is dangerous, cruel and inhumane.”
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart responded to worries about the Rwandan record on human rights:
“That is true, but that doesn’t alter the fact that their reputation as far as migrants is concerned and their economic progress is phenomenal – so I don’t think we want to write this off now”
Some opposition MPs have accused the Prime Minister of attempting to distract from the fine which he was recently issued for breaking laws during the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer said:
“I think we need to see these plans for what they are. It is a desperate announcement by a prime minister who just wants to distract from his own law breaking.
“They are unworkable, they’re extortionate, they’re going to cost taxpayers billions of pounds, and they just reflect a prime minister who’s got no grip, no answers to the questions that need answering and no shame. And I just think Britain deserves better than this.”
While many others have criticised the plans as being both unworkable and immoral.
Labour Peer Lord Dubs, who fled Czechoslovakia before WW2 as a child, said that he believed the policy to be in violation of the Geneva Convention, and said:
“I think it’s an abuse of their human rights and I don’t believe it will achieve what the government wanted anyway”
Attacking the policy from the right of the Conservatives, Nigel Farage said that the policy did not go far enough, suggesting that the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights in order to “complete” Brexit.
“We will never ever solve this problem while we stay signed up to the European convention on human rights, subject to the European court in Strasbourg, and have the incorporation of that law under the Human Rights Act into UK law …”
“Boris Johnson today talked about an army of human rights lawyers. But he didn’t address the elephant in the room that is the Human Rights Act. And unless we deal with [that] – frankly, unless we complete Brexit – we’re not going to be able to deal with this.”
Johnson also outlined other policies being introduced as part of the Nationalities and Borders bill, such as the navy being put in charge of managing operations in the English Channel, instead of the border force.