4 Reasons No.10's Controversial New Scheme For Asylum Seekers Won't Work

Boris Johnson's "world-leading" plan to tackle "vile people smugglers" by sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is deeply flawed.
Boris Johnson made a speech on immigration, at Lydd Airport, in south east England, on April 14, 2022.
Boris Johnson made a speech on immigration, at Lydd Airport, in south east England, on April 14, 2022.
MATT DUNHAM via Getty Images

Boris Johnson may be championing his new trial scheme to send asylum seekers to East Africa, but it’s definitely not a silver bullet when it comes to addressing the influx of refugees arriving by the English Channel.

The new system will send people seeking sanctuary in Britain on a journey of more than 4,000 miles to Rwanda if they have arrived in the UK via supposedly “illegal” means.

Their claims would be assessed “offshore” under a new £120 million deal with Rwanda. If successful, they will be invited to start afresh in East Africa instead.

The prime minister promised that new “world-beating” system would tackle “vile people smugglers” and stop the ocean turning into a “watery graveyard”.

He argued: “Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not.”

However, these plans are enveloped in controversy and have attracted legions of critics. Here’s why.

1. £120 million is not enough for effective action

The scheme echoes a system previously set up by Australia. This costs £1.7 million per person, according to Labour’s estimates, while the home office is only prepared to spend £12,000 to process each individual.

So the £120 million paid by No.10 for this deal seems pretty meagre by comparison – and even that amount has been criticised as a waste of public money, including by Labour’s shadow home secretary.

Yvetter Cooper said it was an “extortionate policy that would cost the UK taxpayer billions of pounds during a cost of living crisis and would make it harder not easier to get fast and fair asylum decisions.”

As British Red cross executive director Zoe Abrams pointed out, this cost is going to fall to taxpayers.

She said: “The financial and human cost will be considerable; evidence from where offshoring has been implemented elsewhere shows it leads to profound human suffering, plus the bill that taxpayers will be asked to foot is likely to be huge.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the “shockingly ill-conceived idea will go far further in inflicting suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money”.

Immigration lawyer Christopher Desira has also warned that, “some countries that do this spend an exorbitant amount of money on it with very few positives”.

He added: “Other countries that said they want to do this still haven’t figured out how to do this.”

2. Did this policy even work for Australia?

Australia began a similar offshoring scheme back in 2001, where people who arrived by boat to the country were then sent to islands in Papua New Guinea.

It became one of the toughest refugee programmes in the world, as Australia has ruled that no-one from these camps can ever be resettled in the country, even if they are genuine refugees.

The Manus Island camp in Papua New Guinea then had to closed last year after the Australian Supreme Court found it to be illegal. The remaining refugees were transferred to Nauru or told they could stay in Papua New Guinea as permanent residents.

The Nauru camp is still operating indefinitely, even though the UN has claimed that the system violates the convention against torture.

The international criminal court’s prosecutor also said the indefinite detention offshore was “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

According to PA news agency, Conservative former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has also warned against copying Australia’s tactics.

He said: “MPs from across the house have already expressed concerns about adopting a policy which Australia abandoned as a failure.

“But this new approach seems to be globally unprecedented and MPs will understandably want to have questions answered about how this is going to work and how much it is going to cost.”

3. It’s unlikely to stop the UK arrivals or the human trafficking

While the prime minister has promised this new system will revolutionise the way we deal with refugees, making the journey more difficult does not mean people will stop trying to get to Britain – and therefore human traffickers are likely to still have business.

After all, people from around the world come to the UK for a range of reasons, including reuniting with family or because they speak the language.

As Abrams said: “We are not convinced this drastic measure will deter desperate people from attempting to cross the Channel.”

Similarly, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council said: “Offshoring the UK’s asylum system will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons why people take perilous journeys to find safety in the UK.

“It will do little to deter them from coming to this country, but only lead to more human suffering and chaos – at a huge expense of an estimated £1.4 billion a year.”

Cumulative successful arrivals in the UK by people crossing the English Channel in small boats
Cumulative successful arrivals in the UK by people crossing the English Channel in small boats
PA GraphicsPress Association Images

4. Questions over Rwanda’s human rights record are not going anywhere

British Red cross executive director Zoe Adams said the humanitarian network was “profoundly concerns” about the system to “send traumatised people halfway round the world to Rwanda”.

Sonya Sceats, the chief executive for Free From Torture, said: “It is even more dismaying that the UK government has agreed this deal with a state known to practise torture.”

Just nine months ago, the government even told the UN Human Rights Council that it “regretted” Rwanda’s refusal to conduct investigations into allegations of human rights violations, to screen identify or provide support to tracking victims.

Yet, Welsh secretary Simon Hart rejected such concerns on Thursday, telling Sky News: “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.”

While acknowledging that the country’s president Paul Kagame has been accused of human rights abuses several times, Hart said: “That is true, but that doesn’t alter the fact that their reputation as far as migrant are concerned, and their economic progress, is phenomenal.”


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