An outcry has greeted the UK’s plan to tackle what it calls “illegal” migration by sending people who arrive by small boats or hidden in lorries to have their asylum claims processed in Rwanda.
Ministers said that the asylum partnership, signed by the UK and Rwandan governments in Kigali this month,1 will break the criminal smuggling trade and support those whose asylum claims are accepted to have a “new and prosperous life” in Rwanda. But the UK stands widely accused of trading refugees as commodities to a repressive state, trashing legal obligations, and undermining international protections of refugees.
“Irresponsible and inhumane”
Leading refugee campaigning and rights groups have warned that costly and cruel offshore processing regimes have already failed elsewhere, particularly in Australia, and led to humanitarian catastrophe, with a heavy toll in lives lost and damaged.
Judith Dennis, policy manager at the Refugee Council, said, “This announcement is already having a horrifying effect on some of the people we support. Traumatised people—who have lost everything, fleeing from war or persecution—now face the anxiety and stress of believing they may be sent 4000 miles across the world against their will.”
Dennis said that the UK’s plan, if put into practice, would have an “appalling impact on the mental health of both those who are sent to Rwanda and those who fear they may be.” She told The BMJ, “Apart from the lack of assurances about how people will access health and other services, this policy is irresponsible and inhumane.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that transferring refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards was “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.”