Britain will send migrants and asylum seekers who cross the Channel thousands of miles away to Rwanda under a controversial deal announced Thursday as the government tries to clamp down on record numbers of people making the perilous journey.
“From today… anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech near Dover in southeastern England.
“Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead,” Johnson said.
He called the East African nation with a sketchy human rights record “one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”
Johnson was elected partly on promises to curb illegal immigration but has instead seen record numbers making the risky Channel crossing.
He also announced that Britain’s border agency would hand responsibility for patrolling the Channel for migrant boats to the navy.
More than 28,000 people arrived in Britain having crossed the Channel from France in small boats in 2021.
Around 90 percent of those were male and three-quarters were men aged between 18 and 39.
The Rwanda plan swiftly drew the ire of opposition politicians who accused Johnson of trying to distract from his being fined for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules, while rights groups slammed the project as “inhumane”.
Ghana and Rwanda had previously been mentioned as possible locations for the UK to outsource the processing of migrants, but Ghana in January denied involvement.
Instead, Kigali on Thursday announced that it had signed a multi-million-dollar deal to do the job, during a visit by British Home Secretary Priti Patel.
“Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants, and offer them legal pathways to residence” in the East African nation, Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said in a statement.
The deal with Rwanda will be funded by the UK to the tune of up to 120 million pounds ($157 million, 144 million euros), with migrants “integrated into communities across the country,” it said.
In Dover, where many migrants arrive after crossing the Channel, some residents welcomed the announcement.
“They should be sent back, because it is not our responsibility,” said retiree Andy, 68.
“Our responsibility is to look after our own people, which we aren’t doing,” the heavily tattooed army veteran told AFP.
“I understand people escaping from repression, I do. But if they’re coming over here for one thing and that is money, to me that is wrong.”
Refugee Action’s Tim Naor Hilton accused the government of “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.
“This grubby cash-for-people plan would be a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war,” he said.Nadia Hardman, Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the plan would “complicate” the process for Syrians seeking refuge in the UK.
“Syrian refugees are desperate to reach a place of safety,” Hardman told AFP.
“The UK’s agreement with Rwanda will only complicate this pursuit.
“They will arrive and expect to be treated according to the fundamental values the UK says it upholds, but will instead be transferred somewhere, miles away.”
Australia has a policy of sending asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention camps on the Pacific island nation of Nauru, with Canberra vowing no asylum seeker arriving by boat would ever be allowed to permanently settle in Australia.
Since 2015 the UK has “offered a place to over 185,000 men, women and children seeking refuge (…) more than any other similar resettlement schemes in Europe,” Johnson said.
According to the UN refugee agency, Germany received the highest number of asylum applicants (127,730) in Europe in 2021, followed by France (96,510), while the UK received the fourth largest number of applicants (44,190).
South African police on Wednesday arrested around 100 foreign nationals occupying an office building in Cape Town as part of a sit-in protest against xenophobia.
Hundreds of asylum-seekers have been camping at UN refugee agency (UNHCR) offices in South Africa’s capital Pretoria and the coastal city of Cape Town since October 8.
The sit-in overflowed into the building housing the UN’s Cape Town office, prompting the landlord to successfully apply for their eviction.
“About 100 people have been arrested after they failed to heed the call to disperse,” the police said in a statement.
“Police are… executing a court order to evict about 300 refugees and asylum seekers who have been occupying the building.”
The foreigners, mainly from other African nations, say they are fed up with being ill-treated and discriminated against.
They have asked the United Nations to relocate them to another country, claiming they no longer feel safe in South Africa after a surge of xenophobic attacks last month.
Clashes broke out with the police as protesters refused to move from the Waldorf Arcade — a 12-storey block of offices in Cape Town’s central business district.
They banged on pots and plastic bottles, chanting “xenophobia government” and “police xenophobia”.
“South Africa you (are) killing refugees”, said a slogan painted on a white banner.
Police fired water guns and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
The situation became more subdued after the arrests. Waldorf Arcade was cordoned off and protesters started moving their belongings to a nearby church.
The UN called on the protesters to “respect the laws” and “return peacefully to their residences”.
“UNHCR has been engaging with the refugees and asylum-seekers since the onset of the protests,” the agency said in a statement, adding that resettlement was “only available for a limited number of very vulnerable refugees”.
Instead, the agency encouraged asylum-seekers to “participate in constructive dialogue” and find “peaceful resolution”.
South Africa is home to 268,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to government statistics. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and DR Congo.
The country boasts some of the world’s most progressive asylum policies, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status within the country itself and to work during the process.
But the UN has voiced concern over the more than 50,000 pending asylum claims — the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rights groups say the number of people granted refugee status has remained unchanged for the past decade, suggesting an intentional culling of foreign national acceptance.
As the continent’s most industrialised economy, South Africa is also a magnet for migrants seeking better job prospects.
Seen as competing with locals for work, foreigners are often the first to come under fire when South Africa’s chronic unemployment and inequality boils into resentment.
Xenophobic violence left at least 62 dead in 2008. Seven people were killed in 2015 and 12 died in the latest spate of attacks this year — most of them South African. The incidents occurred mainly in the Johannesburg area.
Sweden’s Interior Minister says the government is planning to expel as many as 80,000 failed asylum-seekers.
Anders Ygeman said that charter aircraft would be used to deport the migrants over several years.
Some 163,000 migrants applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, the highest per capital number in Europe of approximately 58,800 cases processed last year, 55 per cent were accepted.
Sweden recently introduced temporary border checks in a bid to control the influx of people. Along with Germany, the Scandinavian country which is a prime destination for refugees and other migrants entering the EU illegally.
The level of new arrivals has plunged since the beginning of January, when Sweden introduced systematic photo ID border checks, after stating that it has hit its limit in terms of receiving asylum seekers.
Swedish officials had been calling for greater security at asylum centers amid a surge in reports of violence.
Police officers had requested up to 4,100 new employees after a deadly stabbing attack in a refugee facility.
The attack happened at a center for underage, unaccompanied refugees in Mölndal, southern Sweden on Monday, where a 22-year-old female staff member was killed by a 15-year-old boy.
The victim was a psychology graduate, Alexandra Mezher. She was reportedly working the night shift alone when she was attacked. A motive for the attack was not immediately known.
The Danish parliament will on Tuesday vote on a highly controversial proposal to confiscate asylum seekers’ valuables to pay for their upkeep.
The proposal drew sharp criticism at home and abroad when it was announced earlier this month.
The BBC reported that Danish authorities insisted the policy brings migrants in line with jobless Danes, who must sell assets above a certain level to claim benefits.
With broad cross-party support, the bill looks set to pass into law.
The government would also vote on another controversial proposal – delaying family reunifications for refugees and migrants in an attempt to discourage them from travelling to the country.
Denmark expects to receive around 20,000 asylum seekers in 2016, compared to 15,000 last year.
Amnesty International had said that war refugees would face “an impossible choice” if the waiting period to apply to bring over their family was increased from one year to three.
“Either bring children and other loved ones on dangerous, even lethal journeys, or leave them behind and face a prolonged separation,” said Amnesty spokesperson, Gauri van Gulik.
Thousands of refugees and other migrants had arrived in Denmark this year, many of them in transit to Sweden, after arriving illegally by sea in southern Europe.
Several EU states said on Monday that they plan to prolong temporary border controls introduced in recent months for as many as two years, in order to reduce the number of migrants entering from neighbouring nations.
The announcement came after a meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam.