Prime Minister announces major new asylum policy, acknowledges numerous challenges lie ahead in implementing it
Government announces new migration partnership to enable asylum seekers who enter the UK without permission to be sent to Rwanda
14 April 2022
The Government has today announced a new migration partnership with Rwanda. A memorandum of understanding between the two countries was signed yesterday, which can be read here.
The partnership is intended to enable the UK to carry out the controversial offshoring of asylum seekers, though the Government says even those granted refugee status would remain in Rwanda rather than returning to the UK after their claim has been processed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a speech this morning in Dover announcing the policy. He said that any asylum seeker who enters the UK illegally or has done so since 1 January 2022 may be relocated to Rwanda.
Johnson said a radical plan was needed to break the business model of the gangs bringing asylum seekers across the English Channel by small boats.
The Prime Minister said he is confident that the plan is compliant with the UK's international legal obligations, but he acknowledged that there would be numerous challenges to implementing it and it would not happen overnight. He added that a court challenge was expected.
If passed, the Nationality and Borders Bill (which is heading back to the House of Commons next week) will make it legal for the UK to send asylum seekers overseas while their asylum claims are pending.
BBC News reported, however, that the Home Office believes existing asylum law will be enough to implement the plan.
Before the Prime Minister's speech, BBC News said it was believed that a trial would be carried out to send asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda, which would be restricted to mostly single men whose asylum claims are considered inadmissible.
BBC News said it had seen the accommodation in Rwanda where the asylum seekers will be housed. It is believed to have enough space for around 100 people at a time and can process up to 500 a year.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was in Rwanda today and gave further details of the plan in a joint press conference with the Rwandan government.
Patel said: "Today we have signed a world-leading Migration Partnership with Rwanda which can see those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily into the UK relocated to have their claims for asylum considered and, if recognised as refugees, to build their lives there. This will help break the people smugglers' business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for the genuinely vulnerable."
In response to press questioning, Patel said she would not provide details about the numbers of asylum seekers that might be expected to be sent to Rwanda, and she did not respond to a question about when removals might begin. The Home Secretary acknowledged the difficulties in removing people from the UK, but said the Home Office was now "ready to operationalise" removals to Rwanda.
A Home Office press release briefly detailing the partnership with Rwanda is available here.
This afternoon, the Home Office released a factsheet explaining in more depth how the partnership is excepted to work. According to the factsheet, the first people to be relocated will receive formal notifications in the coming weeks and the first flights are expected to take place in the coming months.
The factsheet confirms that there is no prospect of people being returned to the UK from Rwanda, even if they are recognised as refugees: "If successful in being granted refugee status, people will be given full rights in Rwanda and will be helped to fully integrate with a 5-year package of training and support."
If an asylum claim is rejected, people could still be granted an immigration status in Rwanda or they may be removed to their country of origin or another country where they have a right to reside.
"Everything we are doing is compliant with our legal and international obligations. … People will be relocated overseas only where they will not be at risk of persecution or where it is not a breach of the UK's obligations under Article 3 of the ECHR," the factsheet adds.
The first official announcement came from the Rwandan government. It said in a statement this morning: "There is a global responsibility to prioritise the safety and well-being of migrants, and Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants, and offer them legal pathways to residence. This is about ensuring that people are protected, respected, and empowered to further their own ambitions and settle permanently in Rwanda if they choose.
"Under the programme, migrants will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services. Furthermore, the UK's upfront investment of £120 million will fund opportunities for Rwandans and migrants including secondary qualifications, vocational and skills training, language lessons, and higher education."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement that it strongly opposed the plan and urged the UK to refrain from transferring people to Rwanda. UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, commented: "UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards. Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention."
Labour's shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said last night as news of the announcement broke: "Desperate and truly shameful announcement from Govt tonight as an attempt to distract from Boris Johnson's lawbreaking. Unworkable, unethical and extortionate."
Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the Government's new policy "despicable". Sturgeon posted on Twitter: "A despicable policy on its own terms. But add the fact that it's being set out today to distract from #partygate and you see the utter moral bankruptcy of this Tory government laid bare. Shameful."
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: "We are appalled by the Government's cruel and nasty decision to send those seeking sanctuary in our country to Rwanda. … Sending people seeking asylum to be processed abroad will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons why people take perilous journeys to find safety in the UK. It will do little to deter them from coming to this country, but only lead to more human suffering and chaos – at a huge expense of an estimated £1.4 billion a year."
The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) said today's announcement was "a distraction from the failings of an asylum system plagued by poor decision-making, lengthy delays and inadequate asylum support."
Sir David Normington, a former Home Office Permanent Secretary, told the BBC's Lewis Goodall: "Let's assume it is going happen and the government is serious about it. My assessment: well, first of all it's inhumane, it's morally reprehensible, it's probably unlawful and it may well be unworkable."
There are widespread concerns over Rwanda's human rights record. For example, the US Department of State's latest annual human rights report was released this week and it notes that Rwanda has numerous, serious issues.
The report states: "Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country, including killings, kidnappings, and violence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations."