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Government Accused Of "Unworkable, Unethical And Extortionate" Rwanda Asylum Seeker Relocation

Priti Patel has defended the plans which she claims will create a "fairer" asylum system

6 min read

The Home Secretary has defended her plans to "relocate" asylum seekers to Rwanda after a wave of criticism over a new scheme to deport people who have illegally entered the UK to the African country.

Labour has described the policy as "unworkable" and "unethical" refugee policy after Home Secretary Priti Patel shared details of the plan with the House of Commons on Tuesday. Former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May questioned the "legality, practicality, and efficacy" of the policy.

The controversial deal with Rwanda announced last week will see asylum seekers who arrive to the UK in lorries or by small boats across the Channel placed on one-way flights to the East African country, where they may be given the option to remain.

Speaking on Tuesday, Patel said the current system was in need of change and that access should be "based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers".

The Home Secretary said the partnership with the East African nation would allow asylum seekers the chance to "flourish" despite fierce opposition from human rights groups.

MPs raised further concerns as they highlighted calls from the UK at the United Nations in 2021 when they requested investigations into extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture.

During his Easter Sunday service, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that the policy raised "serious ethical questions" and that it would not stand "the judgement of God".

But Patel defended the plans. "Change is needed because people are dying attempting to come to the UK on illegal and dangerous routes," she said. 

"This partnership is the type of international cooperation needed to make the global immigration system fairer, keep people safe and give them opportunities to flourish."

The UK has already paid £120m towards setting up housing and integration programmes for asylum seekers as part of an initial five year contract which could see tens of thousands of asylum seekers sent abroad.

Patel said the scheme would include education for asylum seekers and claimed it would allow them to "thrive" in Rwanda.

"This agreement deal a major blow to the people smugglers and their evil trade in human cargo," she said.  

"Everyone who is considered for relocation will be screened and interviewed, including an age assessment and will have access to legal services."

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the plans were "unworkable and shameful" and accused Patel of announcing the policy in a bid to "distract" from Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Partygate fines.

"We have seen over the last week this unworkable, shameful and desperate attempt to distract from the Prime Minister's law breaking that the Home Secretary should not go along with," she said.

"The policies she has announced today are unworkable, unethical and extortionate in their cost to the British taxpayer. We have no information from the Home Secretary today about the costs."

Cooper also called for further clarity over the cost of the scheme, saying the Home Secretary had failed to detail how much it will cost for each asylum seeker to be sent to Rwanda.

"She hasn’t actually got an agreement on the price for each person. In fact, the £120m is the eyewatering price the Home Office is paying just for a press release," she said.

"So, what’s the rest of the cost? What is this year’s budget? How many people will it cover?

"The Home Office has briefed it might be 30,000 per person to cover up to three months' accommodation, but that is already three times more than the ordinary cost of dealing with asylum cases in the UK."

Former Prime Minister Theresa May also said she would not support the policy on the grounds of "legality, practicality and efficacy" and raised concerns it could lead to an increase in the smuggling of women and children.

"If it is the case that families will not be broken up, does she not believe, and where is her evidence that this will not simply lead to an increase in the trafficking of children," she asked.

Responding to the concerns, Patel insisted the policy was legal, but refused to set out details about the eligibility criteria for the policy over concerns it would empower smugglers.

Announcing the scheme last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was needed to stop "vile people smugglers" and reduce deaths in the Channel, but acknowledged the plans were likely to face a legal challenge.

"Those who try to jump the queue or abuse our system will find no automatic path to set them up in our country, but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin," he said.

"Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not. We can't ask the British taxpayers to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here."

The plans have also been criticised by the UN's refugee agency, with UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs saying the government were trading people "like commodities".

"People fleeing war, conflict and presecution deserve compassion and empathy," she said. "They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing."

Tory MP and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has said the cost for sending people to Rwanda would be "eye-watering".

"We are already paying the Rwandan government a fee of £120 million and credible estimates, drawn up for the approach now abandoned by Australia, suggest it would be cheaper to put these poor people up in the splendour of the Ritz hotel," he said.

The former minister said the "impractical" plans would result in asylum seekers "physically resisting" and would have to be "manacled" during flights.

"They will super glue themselves to structures; the international media will show pictures of British officials forcing desperate people genuinely seeking asylum onto aeroplanes. Civilian planes may well not be willing to take off with detainees on board. Pilots won’t be willing to fly and their insurers won’t give them insurance," he said.

"So military aircraft, much needed for other activities, will have to undertake the task. Reluctant detainees on board will need to be handcuffed and manacled to avoid in-flight dangers."

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