Britain’s migrant deal with Rwanda

The landlocked East African country of Rwanda is due to become the potential home of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the UK as part of a controversial scheme negotiated by Home Secretary Priti Patel. In a speech discussing the government’s new migration and economic development partnership, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, “anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1st may now be relocated to Rwanda”. 

In justifying the move, the Prime Minister went on to elaborate the policies would break the business models of people smugglers and discourage those who would take advantage of the system existing to help refugees. Will the threat of relocation from the UK be enough to deter those seeking refuge from considerably more drastic situations such as war, poverty, and persecution? I also wonder as to whether the scheme realistically poses an obstruction to the business of human traffickers when their victims remain largely incognisant to UK law, and in this case face unknown repercussions.

The criticism of this plan has been far and wide, with concerns raised about the ethics, cost, and feasibility by Tory MPs, opposing parties, human rights organisations and even Home Office staff.

Personally, I find the government’s immigration plan confusing in its methods and contradictory in its justifications. In response to Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s comments on the cost of the scheme, the Home Secretary stated, “you can’t put a price on human lives,” which I am inclined to agree with. Within the context of this plan, however, there is a lot to be said about the irony (or hypocrisy) of paying another country £120 million or more to receive Britain’s asylum seekers–as a solution to ending the trafficking of humans across the Channel no less. “Eye-wateringly expensive, often violate international law” and “lead to more smuggling, not less” were just a few words used to describe schemes such as the UK-Rwanda initiative by the United Nations Human High Commissioner for Refugees UK (UNHCRUK).

Boris Johnson’s claim of the relocation being a humane solution to Britain’s influx of Channel migrants is cast in shadows of doubt alongside his government’s labelling of Rwanda as a “safe” nation for migrants. As recent as 2020, a Human Rights Watch report noted occurrences of political repression, illegal detention, killing of refugees and ill-treatment of detainees within the country. In enacting this immigration plan, the UK would be sending those who enter by desperate means to a nation whose current government enables the same circumstances from which many refugees are fleeing. Frankly, the government risks subjecting people to the same unfortunate circumstances they claim to be saving them from.

The scheme is an overall reflection of the Home Office’s proclivity toward preventing unauthorised migration rather than addressing the reasons behind it. Should Britain’s plans for illegal migration come to fruition, I fear this cyclical, dehumanising treatment of refugees may only further the very issues we are attempting to resolve.

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Mariam Jallow

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May 2022
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