By Harry B
So far in 2022, almost forty-thousand people have crossed the channel on small boats to seek asylum in the United Kingdom – nearly five times as many as in the entirety of 2020. The small boat crossings are extremely dangerous and are often tied to people-smuggling operations, as well as placing a massive strain upon Home Office processing facilities such as at Manston. Furthermore, some reports indicate that the majority of crossings are not by legitimate asylum seekers, but instead economic migrants, with up to four out of ten coming from Albania. Additional scrutiny has been drawn to the fact that refugees are obligated to seek asylum in the first safe country where they arrive, and that the channel crossings originate from France, with most having travelled across the European Union. In an attempt to reduce the number of attempted channel crossings and stop human smuggling, the Home Office at the direction of Priti Patel drew up a plan for the transfer of migrants to Rwanda, for the asylum applications to be processed there.
The Rwanda Plan is intended to serve as an alternative to processing asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom, by flying them to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement there. The original plan was designed in concert with Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act, which made asylum claims made by those travelling through ‘safe’ countries such as Italy and France inadmissible. However, Suella Braverman is currently drawing up even more stringent rules that would block anyone who enters the United Kingdom illegally from seeking asylum. Under the plan, migrants arriving in the United Kingdom will be flown to Rwanda, where their asylum claims will be processed in Kigali, the country’s capital. If successful, they will receive residency and accommodation in Rwanda; otherwise they can apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country, but not return to the United Kingdom.
The British government hopes that the plan will deter migrants from seeking to cross the channel on small boats in the first place, and stop the human smuggling that sometimes accompanies it. The Rwandan government intends to use the plan to boost their investment and development by increasing their working age population, but it has refused to accept those with criminal records, those under the age of majority, or families. Rwanda has been promised £120 million to help set up and organise the scheme, as well as around £25,000 per migrant taken on. In the plan’s three-year trial period, it is intended that approximately 1,000 migrants will be processed by Rwanda, but there is to be no limit on the number eventually sent, with Boris Johnson announcing that it could be ‘tens of thousands’. Ultimately, however, the first flight was cancelled in the face of widespread appeals to the ECHR by the deportees, which left it unable to take off and the plan in limbo, as the debate over its legality continues.
The plan has drawn substantial criticism from politicians ranging from Jeremy Corbyn to the former Conservative Home Secretary Amber Rudd, as well as figures such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the then-Prince Charles (albeit privately) and campaign groups such as Care4Calais. Newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent have labelled the plan ‘inhumane’, and Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, has criticised the scheme on the basis of human rights violations in Rwanda – especially in relation to asylum seekers which it has previously deported back to Syria and Afghanistan. Even the Daily Telegraph and Conservative MPs have expressed caution about the plan, on the basis that it is likely to be a waste of public funds and avoids dealing with the issue arguably intensifying the channel crossings: the government’s poor relationship with France. The plan has also drawn criticism in Rwanda itself, where Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the opposition leader, questioned the country’s ability to afford the program, even if subsidised by the UK. Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has argued that the plan is unlawful, prejudiced and impractical and that the United Kingdom is attempting to shift its burden onto a developing country.
Under the European Convention of Human Rights, it is quite clear that the plan has little legal basis, as evidenced by widespread calls from some of its proponents that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the convention. Excepting the European Court of Human Rights, some might question whether other international organisations have a right to interfere in a voluntary agreement between two sovereign states, and if the United Kingdom does withdraw from ECHR there will be little that anyone can do to stop the agreement going ahead. The moral basis is more dubious, but some may place the responsibility for the illegal crossings upon the migrants themselves, on the basis that if they attempt it, they must accept the consequences. The question of its efficacy is also up for debate. Many fear that the Rwanda plan will not actually deter crossings, with some suggestion that the proposal’s announcement has actually caused an increase in the number of attempts. However, if it did help bring an end to the people smuggling that at least would undoubtably be a good thing.