The British government is trying to solve its issues with migration with a £120 million plan to relocate asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda.
Under the proposal, anyone arriving in the UK without the correct documentation, as well as those who have arrived illegally since Jan. 1, 2022, may be relocated to the East African nation, where they will be offered permanent residency or sent back to their country of origin. The UK says Rwanda will be paid a set amount per relocated person.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the plan will mean “economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not get to stay in the UK, while those in genuine need will be properly protected.” The asylum system in the UK reportedly costs the government nearly $2 billion a year.
The UK government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, will also make it easier to move someone with a pending asylum claim to a third country.
The number of migrants heading for the UK is growing. In 2021, nearly 29,000 people are estimated to have crossed the English Channel, the stretch of sea separating the UK and France, in small boats. More than 4,500 have made the journey so far this year.
The Rwandan government said “migrants will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrollment in healthcare and social care services.”
It could take up to three months for asylum applications to be processed once migrants arrive in Rwanda. During this time, they will reside in temporary accommodation close to the capital, Kigali.
Johnson is battling against calls for his resignation after receiving a fine from police for breaking the UK’s strict lockdown rules.
“Desperate and truly shameful announcement from Govt tonight as an attempt to distract from Boris Johnson’s lawbreaking,” tweeted the opposition’s Yvette Cooper. “Unworkable, unethical and extortionate.”
The policy was also quickly met with criticism from human rights and refugee organizations.
“Sending people seeking asylum to be processed abroad will do absolutely nothing to address the reasons why people take perilous journeys to find safety in the UK,” said Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council.
“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.”
“While all the details have not been provided, quite a substantial amount of money is involved,” Abdullahi Halakhe, an expert on African security, told Quartz. “That’s a direct benefit. Implicitly, the UK government will not raise any issue about Rwanda in the future—including the Rwanda government’s human rights record.”
Meanwhile, Rwanda already hosts an estimated 130,000 refugees, primarily coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.