A Surprisingly Large Number of Countries Could Copy UK's Rwanda Plan. Who Are They?

Europe is more interested than you may have expected.
UK Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta
UK Home Secretary James Cleverly and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta
Anadolu via Getty Images

The government’s flagship Rwanda policy is up for debate in the Commons yet again this week – but, beyond all the Westminster furore, do any other countries really think it’s a good idea?

The deeply controversial policy has divided the country for more than a year now.

Not a single “illegal” asylum seeker has been deported to Rwanda since the plan was drawn up in the summer of 2022.

It’s also been ruled unlawful by the UK Supreme Court – but the UK has already paid £240 million to Rwanda, with another £100 million on the way in the next few years.

But, Rishi Sunak boldly predicted back in March 2023 that Europe would copy the policy of sending asylum seekers to a third country.

Former PM Boris Johnson also claimed on Tuesday that “governments around the world are now trying to imitate” UK’s new proposal.

And, the UK is not the only country where migration has slipped back onto the political agenda.

In fact, five EU countries processed more asylum seekers and put more people through resettlement schemes – in proportion to their populations – between 2016 and 2022 than the UK.

So – has anyone else shown interest in the divisive scheme?

Here’s what we know.

1. Austria

Austria has already shown significant interest in a Rwanda-style plan, where asylum seekers would be processed elsewhere before deciding if they should be allowed to come to Europe or not.

Austria’s Interior minister Gerhard Kerner signed a close cooperation pact with the UK in November to work together over migration. He also discussed deporting asylum seekers to “safe third countries” with then home secretary Suella Braverman.

Kerner said: “The UK has a lot of experience when it comes to processing asylum applications outside of Europe. Austria can benefit from this.

“We will continue to make a consistent effort for the EU to advance and enable such procedures outside of Europe.”

The Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer is facing elections this year. In September, he said asylum seekers should “no longer be able to go into hiding in the EU or apply for asylum in several European countries at the same time.”

It comes amid growing calls for tighter measures on migration in Austria.

2. Italy

In November last year, Italy announced a plan to build Albania two reception and detention camps to house sea migrants.

Due to open this spring, the camps are meant to host some 3,000 people, but eventually scaled up to process 36,000 migrants each year.

But minors, pregnant people, other vulnerable groups will not be deported to Albania.

It comes after sea migrant numbers doubled between 2022 and 2023 for Italy.

PM Giorgia Meloni, a close ally of Sunak, has also tightened jail terms for human smugglers and promised to ramp up the number of detention centres ahead of possibly returning refugees to their home countries.

Her far-right party, the Brothers of Italy, has also called for other camps to be set up outside of the EU – like in North Africa – but no country in the region has accepted the idea.

3. Germany

German chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to “examine” whether asylum applications could be processed in a third-country last year, too – but he warned about the “legal questions” which could follow.

His main pledge saw him offer more money to local authorities and reduce benefits for asylum seekers in a migration agreement with Germany’s 16 states – he described it as a “historic moment”.

The country is starting to toughen up on migration numbers, especially as 230,000 people requested asylum in Germany during just the first nine months.

But, Scholz’s own party is not happy about the idea of outsourcing asylum seekers.

However, Scholz said he would be open to study Italy’s deal in Albania.

He said: “Bear in mind that Albania will quite soon, in our view, be a member of the EU, implying that we are talking about the question of how can we jointly solve challenges and problems within the European family.”

He also said an overhaul of the EU’s asylum and migration rules should be part of the European parliament’s legislation.

4. Denmark

There’s an argument that the UK actually copied Denmark, rather than the other way round.

The country has been growing much more hostile towards immigration over the last decade. In 2021, it infuriated the EU by passing a law which allowed refugees reaching Denmark to be processed in asylum centres in a partner country.

Then in 2022, it agreed with Rwanda to set up a programme so that arriving asylum seekers could be relocated there.

But, no migrants have ever been sent to the east African country.

The UN Committee against Torture revealed concerns about sending asylum seekers to third countries like Rwanda to be processed.

So, Copenhagen started to focus on a different arrangements with the EU or individual EU states.

Danish minister of immigration and integration, Kaare Dybvad Bek, told Reuters last November: “It remains the government’s goal to relocate asylum processing to a partner country in collaboration with the EU.”

He added that the UK Supreme Court’s ruling that the UK’s Rwanda scheme is unlawful “does not change” the need for new solutions to create a better asylum system while “addressing the significant consequences of irregular migration”.

5. EU

While technically not a country, the EU does fund the Emergency Transit Mechanism, with the backing of the UNHCR.

This scheme has been around since September 2019 – long before the Rwanda plan took hold of Westminster.

It takes asylum seekers who end up in detention centres in Libya on their way to Europe and transports them to Rwanda.

However, these are seen as “evacuations” rather than deportations. The UNHCR say it is “life-saving” because asylum seekers in Libya face “major threats and inhumane conditions”.

It is also voluntary rather than compulsory. It’s a temporary measure for people wanting to move on somewhere else – and so is supported by the UNHCR.

Has anyone dropped a similar plan?

Australia used to process asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing anyone who came to the country by sea.

In September 2012, the Australia government restarted this policy which was last used in the early 2000s.

It was then expanded in July 2013 for everyone reaching the country by unofficial boat, and Australia announced that anyone who arrived by this route would never be permitted to resettle in the country.

However, in October 2021, Australia said it was going to conclude the arrangement with Papua New Guinea. The news following mounting concerns about the detainees’ health and safety.

Australia’s Nauru deal is still in effect though – but as of July 2023, it is empty and kept open only as a deterrent.


What's Hot