Asylum seekers being sent to Rwanda: what should you know about the UK Government’s controversial scheme?

By Amer Zaman

on July 15, 2022

Read Time: 7 Minutes

On 14th April 2022, the UK Government announced what it described as a “world-first partnership to tackle [the] global migration crisis”. The already-controversial plan will entail some asylum seekers who cross the English Channel to the UK being given a one-way ticket to the Republic of Rwanda.

In a speech outlining the agreement with the central African country, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “anyone entering the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1st – may now be relocated to Rwanda.”

The Home Office has said that the “bold new plans” will “tackle illegal migration, control our borders and crack down on the criminal gangs exploiting this international crisis.”

Critics, however – including refugee organisations – have characterised the scheme as cruel, in addition to questioning its cost and effectiveness, and Rwanda’s human rights record. So, what should you know about the scheme that has already attracted so much comment – and how might you be impacted?

Why is the UK Government sending asylum seekers to Rwanda?

In the Home Office’s news release announcing the agreement, Home Secretary Priti Patel reasoned that “the global migration crisis and how we tackle illegal migration requires new world-leading solutions. There are an estimated 80 million people displaced in the world and the global approach to asylum and migration is broken.”

The Government sought to justify the scheme in greater detail in an online factsheet, in which it argued that “access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers.”

The factsheet continued: “If you illegally or irregularly enter the UK via a safe country in which you could have claimed asylum, you are not seeking refuge from imminent peril as is the intended purpose of the asylum system but are picking the UK as a preferred destination over others.”

The Government has also argued that “what are in effect parallel routes to asylum” are putting pressure on the system, with the existence of such parallel routes being “deeply unfair as it advantages those with the means to pay people smugglers over vulnerable people who cannot.”

The factsheet went on to state that a need for “significant reforms” was made clear by the cost of the asylum system to the taxpayer, which it said was £1.5 billion annually.

How will the UK-Rwanda scheme work?

The £120 million scheme, which been officially named the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, has been reported as taking the form of a pilot arrangement for up to five years initially, with the possibility for this to be extended.

The Home Office hassaid that the partnership will “see those travelling to the UK through illegal, dangerous and unnecessary methods considered for relocation to Rwanda, where they will have their asylum claim processed.”

The UK Government’s factsheet continued: “Those whose claims for protection are rejected will either be offered the chance to stay in Rwanda or return to their home country – they will not return to the UK once their claims have been decided by Rwanda.”

A crucial aspect of the scheme, then, is that the UK Government’s legal responsibilities for affected asylum seekers will end after their transfer to Rwanda. Such individuals will not have any option to apply for asylum in the UK. Instead, they will be able to apply for asylum in Rwanda, and their claim will be processed within the Rwandan asylum system.

In the event of those who pass through the scheme being successful in their application for asylum in Rwanda, they will reportedly be offered protection in the African country. Or to put it in the words of the Home Office: “Those whose claims are accepted will… be supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest-growing economies, recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants.”

Which migrants to the UK could be sent to Rwanda under this scheme?

With effect from 1st January 2022, anyone who comes to the UK without a visa or other permission to enter the country could theoretically be transferred to Rwanda as part of this arrangement between the two nations.

The UK Government’s factsheet answered the question as thus: “Every person who comes to the UK illegally, or by dangerous or unnecessary methods from safe countries – including those arriving by small boats, hidden in the back of lorries and found in the UK without leave – will be considered for relocation to Rwanda.”

The BBC has reported that the scheme will “focus on single men arriving in boats or lorries.” The Home Office went on to say in its factsheet, however, that each case would be subject to individual assessment, adding: “The country of removal may be a safe third country in which the person was present before claiming asylum in the UK, one with which they have some other connection, or any other third country which will accept them.”

The UK Government has also said that “we would never return an individual to a country where they would face a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment.”

What has the reaction been to the UK-Rwanda plans?

Concerns have been expressed by politicians, legal experts and refugee organisations about the potential legality, effectiveness, and morality of the scheme.

Mr Johnson has said that the arrangement will help break the business model of people smugglers as a means to “save countless lives” from human trafficking. Home Secretary Priti Patel has hailed the scheme as a “world-leading migration and economic development partnership” that “will change the way we collectively tackle illegal migration through new, innovative and world-leading solutions.”

However, many other observers were much more sceptical, or outwardly scathing. They included Zoe Abrams, executive director at the British Red Cross, who said that the humanitarian network was “profoundly concerned” about the agreement. She added that “the financial and human cost will be considerable”.

The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Enver Solomon, said the charity was “appalled by the government’s cruel and nasty decision”, adding that the plans would “do little” to put off potentially affected migrants who were determined to travel to the UK.

Following numerous legal challenges to the plans, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders – the international humanitarian medical organisation known for its work in conflict zones and parts of the world impacted by endemic diseases – provided further comment.

The organisation stated that it was “disgusted, disheartened and dismayed by the punitive and malicious determination with which this government is proceeding with the decision to forcibly remove people seeking asylum in Rwanda.”

Pointing to the UK Government’s own “decisions to close safe migration routes to the UK”, MSF continued: “Forcibly removing people to Rwanda is incredibly dangerous. MSF knows from its own operational research that when governments persecute vulnerable people in this cruel way, depriving them of their families, loved ones and support networks, with no freedom of choice, freedom of movement, or hope, it destroys lives.”

Questions have also been asked about the Rwandan government’s human rights record, the UK Government having only last year voiced concern at the United Nations (UN) in relation to “continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom.” When asked about such human rights concerns, Mr Johnson said: “Rwanda has totally transformed. Over the last few decades it has totally transformed from what it was.”

Are the UK’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda legal?

The Home Office has insisted that the scheme to move migrants to Rwanda is indeed legal, claiming that “everything we are doing is compliant with our legal and international obligations.”

The UK Government said it would only send people overseas where the affected migrants would not be at risk of persecution or where it would not be a violation of the UK’s obligations under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

However, the Prime Minister admitted in his speech announcing the policy that while he had confidence in the agreement being “fully compliant with our international legal obligations… nevertheless we expect this will be challenged in the courts”.

The UN Refugee Agency has also undertaken a legal analysis of the UK-Rwanda agreement, concluding that the policy is “incompatible with the letter and spirit of the 1951 Convention.” In the long run, it will be the responsibility of judges to determine the policy’s legality in response to legal challenges, with several having already been brought.

How can Cranbrook Legal assist with my case?

With the Rwanda policy still being so new, there remains much uncertainty about the particulars of the scheme, including how it will be implemented, who will be affected, and to what extent – and in what ways – migrants will be impacted.

Our own award-winning and experienced specialists in immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal are continuing to study the implications of the scheme. In the meantime, we have an excellent track record in our handling of all manner of asylum cases, and we would be pleased to take on your case, or to answer any of your queries in relation to this fast-evolving situation. Please feel free to call 0208 215 0053 today for further information and guidance, or to complete and submit our online contact form so that you can arrange a free consultation with us.

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