LONDON (CN) — The British government intends to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of a so-called migration and economic development partnership with the Rwandan government.
The radical new approach to British asylum policy was announced on Thursday, following months of speculation surrounding the possibility of "offshoring" the nation’s refugee obligations to another country.
Under the plan, asylum seekers arriving in Britain through illegal routes will be flown more than 4,000 miles to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. They will then have their asylum applications processed while held in immigration facilities. If their application is successful, they will be given the opportunity to settle in the small east African republic.
The government hopes in the long term that the plan will reduce the pressure on the southern coast of England, where thousands of refugees have been arriving in small boats after an often perilous journey across the English Channel. The number of people attempting to cross the channel has more than doubled compared to this time last year, with an estimated 5,000 arrivals since January alone.
British authorities have struggled to keep up with the number of cross-channel journeys being made, adding to the dangers faced by refugees attempting entry in this way. Last November, 27 people tragically died after their boat capsized in freezing waters, with authorities failing to reach the stranded refugees in time.
“There are currently 80 million displaced people in the world, many in failed states where governments can’t meet their aspirations," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his announcement of the plan Thursday. "The answer cannot be for the U.K. to become the haven for all of them. We’ve got to be able to control who comes into this country and the terms on which they remain. And we must do this in the spirit of our history of providing refuge.”
“And that is what I think is most exciting about the partnership we have agreed with Rwanda today,” he continued, “because we believe it will become a new international standard in addressing the challenges of global migration and people smuggling."
Speaking in Rwanda, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Rwanda has one of the strongest records of refugee resettlement and in recent years Rwanda has resettled over 100,000 refugees.”
She added, "This agreement fully complies with all international and national law, and as part of this ground-breaking agreement, the U.K. is making a substantial investment in the economic development of Rwanda.”
The total cost of the partnership has not been revealed, though an upfront sum of around 120 million pounds ($157 million) has been widely reported.
The announcement does not come as a complete surprise to those following the U.K.’s shifting asylum strategy. The government was known to be exploring locations to which it could potentially outsource refugee processing, having also reportedly made approaches to the governments of Albania and Ghana.
In addition, the Nationality and Borders Bill current passing though Parliament includes provisions to legalize the practice of offshoring. The House of Lords has repeatedly voted down the sections of the bill which authorize offshoring, which has slowed the passage of the legislation through Parliament.
The proposals have been met with fierce criticism in the U.K. The opposition Labour Party’s home affairs spokesperson, David Lammy, labeled them a “morally bankrupt, shameful and unworkable plan.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon slammed the plan as “despicable”, while Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford similarly described the idea as “cruel and inhumane.”
Criticism also comes from the government’s own side. Speaking on BBC Radio, Conservative Member of Parliament Andrew Mitchell said, "The problem with the scheme that they have announced is that I don't think it will work. It is impractical, it is being condemned by churches and civil society, it is immoral and, above all for conservative advocates, it is incredible expensive.”