A government minister has dismissed concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record as he defended plans to fly asylum seekers to the African country.
Welsh secretary Simon Hart said the policy - which has been widely condemned by charities - was “a really groundbreaking way forward” for tackling the problem of economic migrants crossing the English Channel to get to the UK.
Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel will set out full details of the plan later this morning.
It is understood the UK has signed an agreement with Rwanda which will see asylum seekers sent nearly 5,000 miles away from the UK for processing.
On Sky News, Hart said it was “true” that the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, has been accused of human rights abuses.
But he insisted the country’s economic progress had been “phenomenal”, and that it had “a good record” for dealing with migrants.
He said: “I think the first thing is we have to deal with this problem.
“We have a very good relationship with Rwanda: It’s an up-and-coming economy, it has got a very good record with migrants in this particular issue.
“And it’s an arrangement which I think suits both countries very well and provides the best opportunities for economic migrants, for those who have been in the forefront of this particular appalling problem for so long now.
“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.”
Pressed on Kagame has been accused of human rights abuses on more than one occasion, the minister said: “That is true, but that doesn’t alter the fact that their reputation as far as migrants are concerned, and their economic progress, is phenomenal.”
When it was pointed out that genocide in Rwanda had led to the deaths of a million people, Hart said: “Absolutely, but if we adopt that attitude we will never be able to make progress.
“Rwanda is an improving economy with a good human rights record now and a good record as far as migrants are concerned.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, urged the government to “immediately rethink its plans”.
“We are appalled by the government’s cruel and nasty decision to send those seeking sanctuary in our country to Rwanda,” he said.
“Every day we are hearing the stories of desperate Ukrainian families fleeing war. This is the brutal reality faced by refugees escaping conflicts all over the world, who this government now wants to treat as no more than human cargo to be shipped elsewhere.
“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.”
Labour said the timing of the announcement, in the same week that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak received police fines over partygate, showed it was an attempt to distract from the prime minister’s domestic woes.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, described the proposal as “a desperate and shameful . . . attempt to distract from his own law breaking”.
“It is an unworkable, unethical and 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,” she added.