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Tory Rwanda deportation plan sparks huge backlash

NGOs, faith groups and MPs baffled by PM's ‘fly Channel refugees to East Africa’ deal

A TORY minister has insisted that asylum-seekers will be able to enjoy “fully prosperous” lives in Rwanda despite major concerns about the country’s human rights record.

The government’s multimillion-pound deal with the east African nation comes just 10 months after ministers hit out at its government over failures to investigate human rights violations. 

The new plan, announced on Thursday, would see some asylum-seekers, who cross the Channel to Britain in small boats, sent more than 4,000 miles away to have their asylum claims processed.

Ministers scrabbled to defend the plans today following a huge backlash from faith groups, human rights organisations, opposition politicians and even several senior Tories, with the proposals described as “cruel and nasty.”

Questioned on the deal, Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said asylum-seekers transferred to Rwanda would be under no compulsion to stay there, but did not specify how they would be supported to leave or where they would go. 

“If they wish to leave and not enter the asylum system there, they are able to do so,” he told the BBC. 

“But what will happen is that people will be processed under the Rwandan asylum system, if they are granted they can remain in Rwanda and what Rwanda want to do is to make sure those people can live fully prosperous and successful lives, and the partnership agreement we’ve got with them will help them to achieve that.”

Questioned on the costs of the proposals, Mr Pursglove said the new policy would save Britain money in the “long run” before adding that the costs to Rwanda would be “pretty equivalent” to what is being spent by our government.

Under the deal Rwanda, which already hosts more than 150,000 refugees across six major camps, would receive £120 million in up-front costs, with asylum-seekers being flown over as early as six weeks from now, according to reports. 

Rights groups have expressed alarm at the plans, highlighting Rwanda’s “appalling” human rights record, including the fatal shooting of at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018 by Rwandan security forces at a protest. 

Describing the plans as “cruelty itself,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Rwanda has a known track record of extrajudicial killings, suspicious deaths in custody, unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture, and abusive prosecutions, particularly targeting critics and dissidents. 

“In fact, the UK directly raised its concerns about respect for human rights with Rwanda, and grants asylum to Rwandans who have fled the country, including four just last year.”

In July 2021, Britain’s international ambassador Rita French expressed regret that Rwanda was not carrying out “transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations, including deaths in custody and torture.”

Rwanda is among governments believed to have paid Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative for advice and possible “whitewashing,” though British governments have refused to disclose the “commercially sensitive” details about the former PM’s links to President Paul Kagame.

Concerns have also been raised about the fate of LGBT+ asylum seekers sent to the country due to evidence of ill-treatment and abuse faced by this community in Rwanda. 

British-based refugee rights group Rainbow Migration said in a statement: “The agreement means that LGBTQI+ people who have fled life-threatening situations in their home countries, and sought safety and protection from the UK, will instead be sent to a country where it is not safe for LGBTQI+ people to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Outrage at the plans continued today with former Tory cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell branding them “impractical” and “incredibly expensive.”

Former top civil servant Sir David Normington said the scheme was “inhumane, morally reprehensible, probably unlawful and may well be unworkable.”

Campaigners have also highlighted how a similar deal struck between Israel and Rwanda between 2014 and 2017 saw almost all deported refugees leave the country immediately, with many attempting to return to Europe via people-smuggling routes. 

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said that deal, like Australia’s offshore model, did not achieve the stated aim of stopping people making dangerous journeys and only caused “significant harm and distress.” 

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