Why human rights experts condemn Boris Johnson’s asylum plan

Beginning in 2001, the Australian government sent thousands of incoming asylum seekers to the remote Pacific countries of Papua New Guinea, Manus Island and Nauru. There, while waiting in squalid detention centers for resettlement decisions, migrants, including children, suffered human rights violations.

Now aid groups fear history will repeat itself as the UK begins its own policy of relocating migrants, on the grounds of ending dangerous trafficking routes, including across the Channel by boat. Explicitly citing the Australian example as “successful”, the UK plans to redirect some asylum seekers 4,000 miles south to Rwanda – a move some human rights observers say could also affect Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK-Rwanda Partnership on Migration, a plan to force the country to send inbound migrants to Rwanda, part of a new package designed to ease alleged pressures on the UK asylum system while boosting Rwandan economic development. The government justified it as a humane way to combat dangerous and illegal human trafficking. ‘Anyone arriving in the UK illegally may be eligible,’ the official Home Office factsheet reads, adding that those who can afford to pay for smuggling routes are by definition not eligible. asylum seekers in need and are security “economic migrants”. countries.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech at Lydd Airport on April 14, 2022 in Dover, England. The UK government has announced it will process people seeking asylum in Britain 4,500 miles away in Rwanda in a bid to crack down on unauthorized migration. [Photo: Matt Dunham/WPA Pool/Getty Images]

But human rights experts immediately decried the plan, arguing it will not solve the alleged problem and downgrades the UK’s position on the world stage. “It’s definitely a very cruel, unethical and inhumane arrangement,” says Emily McDonnella refugee advocate at Human Rights Watch UK She says the rhetoric about economic migrants is a myth, citing that two-thirds of people crossing the English Channel are granted asylum due to legitimate cases. By the very definition of asylum, there are no illegal asylum seekers. As other countries, including Denmark, consider similar ‘outsourcing’ policies, experts fear the UK’s plan could trigger a “race to the bottom” and encourage similar initiatives in other countries.

This model of “migrant relocation” is not unprecedented. The Australian version sparked an international outcry, as seen by human rights groups several cases of abuse, sexual threats and assaults, and self-harm and suicides due to continued detention and dire conditions; 51% of abuse reported to Naura involved children. Prior to that, the United States relocated Haitian immigrants to Guantanamo Bay, beginning in 1991.

Last year, Denmark, which has taken a particularly tough stance against refugees – and has tried to send some back to Syria – has approved a bill that would allow the relocation of asylum seekers to countries outside the EU. She also signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda to explore a possible agreement. And just this week there have been echoes of this pattern of shifting accountability in the United States as Governor of Texas. Greg Abbott started sending undocumented migrants in Washington, DC, in chartered buses.

While most people seeking asylum in the UK come from Iran; Iraq; Eritrea, in northeast Africa; Syria; and Albania, McDonnell thinks individuals fleeing war from Ukraine could also suffer the same fate. The UK has not abolished visa requirements for Ukrainians, and there has been significant delays in their treatment. Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International UK, agrees the policy could, in theory, apply to Ukrainian asylum seekers. “Given that Ukrainian visa programs are not working, this is a real possibility,” he said by email.

Any asylum seeker who arrives in the UK after January 1 without prior authorization will be subject to screening. If officials think they are from a ‘safe country’ and find them inadmissible to the UK, they could be sent back to the country they came from or to Rwanda. Once there, Rwandan officials will process their application and, if deemed “in real need”, will be allowed to settle in the country. From now on, there will be no cap on the number of people transferred and the first flights will depart in the coming months. In 2021, more than 24,000 asylum seekers entered UK detention centres, a 65% increase on 2020.

Johnson called the £120 million ($157 million) program an “innovative approach driven by our shared humanitarian impulse and made possible by Brexit freedoms.” He claimed his wider aim was to deter human trafficking, which he said turns the English Channel into an “aquatic graveyard”.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to Dover, Kent, on board the Border Force Searcher vessel following a small boating incident in the English Channel. Boris Johnson has put the Navy in charge of the Channel, while he defended plans to send some asylum seekers, who make the crossing in small boats, to Rwanda. Picture date: Thursday April 14, 2022. [Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Images/Getty Images]

Touting its own deal, the UK has applauded Rwanda’s handling of migrants, citing 130,000 people it has resettled from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Human Rights Watch says otherwise., alleging that under his authoritarian government, “torture in official and unofficial detention centers is rife”. In 2018, Rwandan police killed 11 Congolese refugees for protesting food ration cuts. McDonnell points to a key irony: “The UK grants asylum to Rwandans fleeing Rwanda” just last year, she says. “How can you send people to a country that [has] a human rights record that the UK itself has criticized? »

For the Rwandan government, the agreement aligns with its Vision 2050 objective, an economic development proposal under which Rwanda intends to become a middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. According to Rwandan media Kigali Today PressUK investments will contribute to some of the plan’s goals, including skills training, support for small businesses and climate-resilient policies, all of which are meant to benefit both Rwandans and asylum seekers.

But McDonnell says once in Rwanda, asylum seekers will be left in “a state of uncertainty”. They will be housed in detention centers in Kigali, the first of which Sky News reported has a communal dining hall, 12 toilets and 5 showers for approximately 100 people, who will reside in 12 x 12 foot rooms. They will apparently stay for three months while their cases are processed (although in Australia some have stayed for years). “These people will never have the chance to come to the UK and seek protection,” McDonnell said.

The plan is likely to face legal challenges, as Australia’s did, due to human rights violations, including the right to life, degrading treatment and arbitrary detention. “Detention and treatment abroad in this form is appalling, no matter where they are,” McDonnell says. “It goes against the spirit of the Refugee Law, which says we should all share responsibility for refugees, instead of just pushing them to other countries.

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