Rwanda migration policy breaches international law, says UN refugee agency
The UK Government’s controversial plans to send migrants who arrive in Britain to Rwanda is “unacceptable” and a breach of international law, the UN’s refugee agency said.
The Government announced yesterday that it plans to provide certain asylum seekers, including those crossing the Channel in small boats, with a one-way ticket to Rwanda, where they will have the right to apply to live in the African country.
Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the UNHCR, said the agency “strongly condemns outsourcing the primary responsibility to consider the refugee status”, as laid out in the scheme put forward by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, the former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission said the policy was a “troubling development”, particularly in the light of countries taking in millions of Ukrainian refugees displaced by the conflict in eastern Europe.
Put to her that Australia had effectively deployed a similar tactic to cut migration numbers, Ms Triggs said: “My point is, just as the Australian policy is an egregious breach of international law and refugee law and human rights law, so too is this proposal by the United Kingdom Government.
“It is very unusual, very few states have tried this, and the purpose is primarily deterrent – and it can be effective, I don’t think we’re denying that.
“But what we’re saying at the UN refugee agency is that there are much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome.”
She said attempting to “shift responsibility” for asylum seekers arriving in Britain was “really unacceptable”.
Ms Triggs pointed out that Israel had attempted to send Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to Rwanda, but that they “simply left the country and started the process all over again”.
“In other words, it is not actually a long-term deterrent,” she added.
Welsh politicians lined up to slam the proposals following confirmation of the plans by Boris Johnson and his Home Secretary Priti Patel.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said “The UK Government’s plans to send asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda is cruel and inhumane.
“This is not the way to treat people seeking safety and sanctuary.”
Liz Saville Roberts, the leader of Plaid Cymru’s Westminster group, said: “This government have the humanitarian instincts of hyenas.
“Tossing red meat to rabid supporters No 10 desperate for a figleaf for PM’s shredded reputation.”
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart also came under fire after defending the scheme in a series of media interviews.
Mr Hart, the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire also said the plan has the potential to ‘break up and deter criminal gangs’ involved in transporting vulnerable people to the UK.
He claimed transporting migrants to Rwanda would “reduce the horrible level of exploitation and improve the chances for people who have crossed half the world at huge emotional and personal and financial expense”.
He told Sky News: “We have a very good relationship with Rwanda: It’s an up-and-coming economy, it has got a very good record with migrants in this particular issue.
“And it’s an arrangement which I think suits both countries very well and provides the best opportunities for economic migrants, for those who have been in the forefront of this particular appalling problem for so long now.
“And I think that this arrangement is a really… it has the potential to be a really good step forward and a really humane step forward.”
When pressed on the fact the president of Rwanda has been accused of human rights abuses on more than one occasion, Mr Hart said: “That is true, but that doesn’t alter the fact that their reputation as far as migrants are concerned, and their economic progress, is phenomenal.”
Reacting to Mr Hart’s comments, Welsh liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds said: “Once again Simon Hart has shown he has absolutely no backbone. He should be deeply ashamed of himself for defending this cruel and unnecessary policy, it is truly a disgrace.
“The Conservative Government’s plan to offshore refugees thousands of kilometres from the UK is unbelievably cruel.
“The fact they plan to offshore them to an authoritarian police state with numerous human rights abuses only makes it even more sickening.
“A US Government report into human rights in Rwanda highlights the arbitrary killings carried out by security forces in Rwanda, alongside forced disappearances, the abuse of those in detention and a complete disregard for the rule of law.
Tom Pursglove, the UK minister for justice and tackling illegal migration, said on Friday that the policy was “in line” with the UK’s legal obligations.
However, he accepted that it would be “difficult” to implement the plan to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda, with the Government braced for legal challenges.
He told Times Radio: “I think what is also really important to make (clear) in dealing with that issue is that, at all times, we act in accordance with our international obligations, the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) and the refugee convention.
“We are absolutely confident that our policies are in line with that and entirely compliant, which by extension would mean that those legal challenges would be without merit.
“But it will be difficult, there will be challenges.”
Mr Pursglove also suggested during broadcast interviews that other countries in Europe were considering emulating the UK’s Rwandan policy, which he described as a “world first”.
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