Some asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats will be sent to Rwanda for processing, under a new immigration policy announced by the government.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is set to sign a deal with Rwandan officials that will result in some people seeking asylum in the UK being sent more than 4,000 miles away for their cases to be processed.
Priti Patel, who travelled to Rwandan capital Kigali to sign the deal, said it was a “global first and it will change the way we collectively tackle illegal migration”.
Crossing the channel is not illegal
In 2021 the Court of Appeal ruled that it was not illegal to cross the Channel in small boats concluding:
“The British Court of Appeal has ruled that asylum seekers intercepted while trying to cross the English Channel in small boats towards the UK are not in breach of British law.”
As the law presently stands, an asylum seeker who merely attempts to arrive at the frontiers of the United Kingdom in order to make a claim is not entering or attempting to enter the country unlawfully.”
Concerns from the British Medical Association (BMA)
Responding to the government’s announcement about relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda, Dr Zoë Greaves, BMA medical ethics committee chair, said:
“The BMA has repeatedly raised concerns about the proposed use of offshoring on medical and ethical grounds, and we are profoundly concerned by today’s announcement, and the impact it will have on the health, well-being and safety of already extremely vulnerable people.
“We know the damage a similar policy has inflicted on people trying to reach Australia, with extensive evidence showing the truly devastating effect detention has had on the mental health of those held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
“While the government insists ‘Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world’, it is unclear how it came to this conclusion; especially given previous concerns raised about its human rights record. It is also unclear whether there will be infrastructure and resources in place to sufficiently meet the unique and pressing health needs that asylum seekers can present with.
“We are worried that such a policy risks leaving people who are vulnerable, fleeing dangerous situations and who have often experienced trauma exposed to further situations where they are re-traumatised and unable to access the medical attention and support that they desperately need.”
How safe is Rwanda?
In January 2021 the UK government delivered a statement on Rwanda at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which gave recommendations on improving the country’s Human Rights record. The statement was from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Julian Braithwaite
This is what was said:
“The United Kingdom welcomes Rwanda’s strong record on economic and social rights, and promotion of gender equality. We remain concerned, however, by continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom. As a member of the Commonwealth, and future Chair-in-Office, we urge Rwanda to model Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
“We recommend that Rwanda:
- Conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture, and bring perpetrators to justice.
- Protect and enable journalists to work freely, without fear of retribution, and ensure that state authorities comply with the Access to Information law.
- Screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims, including those held in Government transit centres.”
Opinion of former Home Office official:
Sir David Normington, who was permanent secretary at the Home Office between 2005 and 2011 said in an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight:
“Let’s assume that’s actually going to happen, because there are lots of hurdles to get over and the Prime Minister admitted that, so it’s not going to solve a problem very quickly. But let’s assume it is going happen and the government is serious about it.
“My assessment is, well, first of all it’s inhumane, it’s morally reprehensible, it’s probably unlawful and it may well be unworkable.”
How can we do to oppose this “morally reprehensible” plan?
The campaign group Safe Passage said:
“Banishing refugees to Rwanda is not the solution to the tragedy of deaths in the Channel.
“The government’s plans to exile refugees to Rwanda are absurd and terrifying. These measures will cruelly punish people who have fled their homes and are now desperately seeking safety, like Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Having escaped war and persecution, people will be imprisoned in Rwanda, separated from family and stuck in limbo.”
Writing to MPs
Safe Passage urges people to write to their MP and has suggested the following text:
“As my MP, please oppose these plans by saying no to offshoring of refugees, and instead help refugees by voting for more safe routes in the Nationality and Borders Bill, including Lord Dubs’ amendment to fix family reunion.
The current rules for refugees are broken. As it stands, refugees struggle to reach the UK safely – a consequence of a system that cruelly punishes and restricts them from seeking sanctuary here wherever possible.
None of us want to see Ukrainians, Afghans, or any other refugees risking their lives in a small boat across the Channel. However, unless the Government opens safe routes and fixes family reunion, refugees are often left with no other choice but to risk everything in the hands of dangerous people smugglers.
To punish those that attempt this journey is cruel, inhumane, and completely unworkable. Instead, this Government must open new safe routes so that no refugee has to risk their life to reach safety.
Currently, the Government’s Bill offers no new safe routes to reach the UK, something that many of the amendments you will vote on in the Nationality and Borders Bill would fix if passed.
We must protect refugees and say no to banishing refugees to Rwanda. Please support safe routes and vote for Lord Dubs’ amendment to fix family reunion when it comes to a vote on Wednesday.”