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Doubt Raised Over How Plan To Send Asylum Seekers To Rwanda Will Work In Practice

small boats

4 min read

The government faces questions over how its plan to process some asylum claims in Rwanda will work in practice after Boris Johnson announced the agreement in principle on Thursday.

The Prime Minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel said today that the Rwandan government had agreed to process asylum claims for people who cross the Channel to the UK and are deemed by the Home Office to be illegal. Rwanda is around 4,000 miles from the UK. 

As part of the proposals, which Patel signed off in Rwanda today, people who are transferred to the African country by the UK government will be housed in temporary accommodation while the Rwandan government processes their asylum claims, which is expected to take around three months. Those who are successful will be offered the right to stay in Rwanda in the long-term.

Speaking in Kent this morning, Johnson insisted it was "the morally right thing to do" as the government attempts to reduce the number of attempted Channel crossings by migrants. Around 600 people arrived on Wednesday, the government said, and the number of attempted crossings is expected to rise in the coming weeks as Britain's weather gets warmer.

The Prime Minister said: "We cannot have people continuing to die at sea, paying huge sums to evil people traffickers who are simply exploiting their hopes and their ambitions.

"We need to encourage them to take the safe and legal route if they want to come to this country".

Downing Street and the Home Office have come under pressure from Conservative MPs to tackle Channel crossings, especially with 5th May local elections just a few weeks away.

The plan announced today cannot be implemented until parliament passes the National and Borders Bill. The legislation must first go back to the House of Lords, where it has already suffered several defeats. Several Conservative MPs have also criticised the policy of offshore asylum processing. 

A Home Office insider expressed doubt over how elements of the scheme would work in practice, telling PoliticsHome that many people who successfully make it to Dover and don't want to be flown to Rwanda will resist being detained by authorities.

UK officials today said those who are deemed inadmissible will ultimately be forced to go to Rwanda. However, they did not say what plans the government had in place to prevent people absconding before being put into detention, or whether such plans existed. 

They confirmed that only adults would be transferred to Rwanda, not children, though the pilot scheme is expected to focus on young men who arrive into the country via small boat or lorry. 

Officials also said that Rwandan nationals who arrive in the UK seeking asylum would not be sent back to their home country. The Rwandan government is expected to process thousands of claims in the first years of the scheme coming into effect.

Johnson in his press conference said he was bracing for the policy to receive legal challenges after the announcement prompted outrage from opposition parties and human rights organisations.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, on Wednesday night tweeted: "Desperate & truly shameful announcement from Govt tonight as an attempt to distract from Boris Johnson’s lawbreaking. Unworkable, unethical & extortionate".

Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was a "pathetic distraction" from partygate and Johnson this week being issued a Fixed Penalty Notice by the Met Police.

The Tory Reform Group, which represents moderate Conservative MPs, strongly criticised the policy. The group tweeted it was "wrong because vulnerable individuals should not be transported across the globe to be processed" and "irresponsible because this hastily thought through plan will cost taxpayers millions" at a time when the country can't afford it. 

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the agreement with Rwanda would "do little" to deter people from attempting to cross the Channel, adding that the charity was "appalled by the government's cruel and nasty decision".

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