Britain will send migrants and asylum seekers across the Channel thousands of miles away to Rwanda under a controversial deal announced Thursday as the government tries to crack down on a record number of people making the dangerous journey.
“From today … anyone who enters the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 can now be transferred to Rwanda,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech near Dover in the south-east. of England.
“Rwanda will have the ability to restore tens of thousands of people in the years to come,” Johnson said.
He called the East African nation with a poor human rights record “one of the safest countries in the world, recognized globally for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”
Johnson was partially elected with a promise to curb illegal immigration, but instead saw record numbers crossing the risky channel.
He also announced that the British border agency would entrust the navy with responsibility for patrolling the canal for migrant boats.
More than 28,000 people arrived in Britain after crossing the English Channel from France on small boats in 2021.
About 90% of these were male and three quarters were men between the ages of 18 and 39.
Rwanda’s plan quickly drew the ire of opposition politicians who accused Johnson of trying to distract from his fine for breaking coronavirus blocking rules, while human rights groups criticized the project as “inhumane. “.
Ghana and Rwanda were previously mentioned as possible places for the UK to outsource the treatment of migrants, but Ghana denied involvement in January.
Instead, Kigali announced Thursday that it had signed a multi-million dollar deal to get the job done, during a visit by UK Interior Minister Priti Patel.
“Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the UK to host asylum seekers and migrants and offer them legal locations for residency” in the East African nation, Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said in a statement.
The deal with Rwanda will be funded by the UK for an amount of up to £ 120 million (US $ 157 million, € 144 million), with migrants “integrated into communities across the country,” he said.
In Dover, where many migrants arrive after crossing the English Channel, some residents welcomed the announcement.
“They should be sent back because it’s not our responsibility,” said Andy, 68, retired.
“Our responsibility is to take care of our people, which we are not doing,” the heavily tattooed army veteran told AFP.
“I understand people fleeing repression, I know. But if they come here for one thing and it’s money, that’s wrong for me. “
Tim Naor Hilton of Refugee Action accused the government of “shifting its responsibilities to former European colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.”
“This dirty cash scheme would be a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way of dealing with people fleeing persecution and war,” he said.
Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the plan showed that the Conservative government was “institutionally racist”.
The government “rightly provides asylum and shelter to Ukrainians fleeing the war, but wants to send other asylum seekers thousands of miles away to Rwanda to be ‘treated’,” tweeted Yousaf.
Australia has a policy of sending asylum seekers by boat arriving at detention camps in the Pacific island nation of Nauru, with Canberra promising that no asylum seekers arriving by boat would ever be allowed to settle permanently in Australia.
Since 2015, the UK “has provided more than 185,000 men, women and children seeking refuge … more places than any other similar resettlement program in Europe,” Johnson said.
According to the UN refugee agency, Germany received the largest number of asylum seekers (127,730) in Europe in 2021, followed by France (96,510), while the UK received the fourth largest number of asylum seekers (44,190). ).