The Rwanda Plan: The Whats, Whys, Critics and the Future

By GLOBUS Assistant Editor and Campaigns Manager, Isabel Govier

What is the Rwanda Plan?

It consists of a 5-year agreement established in April of 2022 between the British and Rwandan governments, which allows the UK Home Office to send people who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK to Rwanda. Once there, the Rwandan government will assess their asylum claim and decide whether they are to be granted refugee status or sent back to their country of origin

This plan is strongly linked to last year’s Nationality and Borders Act, which allows for the classification of asylum claims as “inadmissible” if the applicant has travelled through a different country, where they could have claimed asylum instead, in their journey to the UK. If a claim is considered “inadmissible,” the applicant will be removed to a ‘safe third country’ without careful consideration of their reason for seeking asylum, which begs the question of whether the Home Office would be aware of which countries would be safe for the individual at that stage. 

Why is this plan being implemented?

As the people who make the journey across the Channel in small boats have also often travelled through other countries before arriving in the UK, the government argues that the Rwanda Plan will be an encouragement against travelling to the UK through “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods.” Although, in spite of the announcement of the plan last April, the amount of people crossing the Channel has not decreased. Chief Executive of the British Red Cross Mike Adamson highlighted that, before their arrival, many asylum seekers have no knowledge of the system they will go through in the UK, stating that “making it harsher will do nothing to stop them seeking safety on our shores.”

The government also argues that the plan will lead to long-term reduction in spending in spite of the £140 million that the UK has paid Rwanda so far in return for taking in asylum seekers. The British government has also committed to paying for flights, food, accommodation and access to legal aid for those who are removed, which would amount to around £12,000 per person. Tom Pursglove, former Home Office Minister, stated that this spending would be similar to what is invested in the British asylum system now

What is the UNHCR’s stance?

In spite of the High Court upholding the legality of the Rwanda Plan last December, the UNHCR has stated that the policy does not “comply with the United Kingdom’s obligations under international law” and that “the arrangement [is] inconsistent with global solidarity and responsibility-sharing.” The agency argues that the British government is going against the Refugee Convention by externalising its obligations relative to asylum seekers, as well as potentially penalising those who enter the UK unlawfully, which is prohibited by section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999). “The Refugee Convention does not require refugees to seek asylum in the 1st safe country they encounter and it does not allow states to discriminate between refugees depending on the way of arrival,” reinforced Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UNHCR UK representative. She also highlighted that the majority of asylum seekers have no choice but to take dangerous routes to the UK, reinforcing the tone of indignation which has flooded the UNHCR after the Nationality and Borders Act and the Rwanda Plan. 

Has anyone been sent to Rwanda yet?

Although the first removal of an asylum seeker, an Iraqi national who travelled through Turkey and crossed the Channel to arrive in the UK, was scheduled for the 14th of June of 2022, it was halted by the European Court of Human Rights due to legal challenges. The applicant’s trial was undergoing a judicial review at the time of the removal decision, meaning they had the right to remain in the UK until three weeks after the final decision on their asylum claim. The European court additionally expressed grave concern over the decision to view Rwanda as a safe third country, which the High Court found to be “irrational or based on insufficient enquiry.”

What happens now?

In spite of the concerns voiced by the UNHCR, the Red Cross, the European Court of Human Rights, experts and academic commentators, the Home Secretary has confirmed that the UK will go ahead as planned “once the litigation process has come to an end.” According to the UK government, there is no limit to the amount of people who could be relocated through this scheme.But activists have not lost hope: Due to campaigns led by refugee charities, Privilege Style, the airline hired for the transportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda, has backed out of its contract with the Home Office. “We want to work with the government to create a fairer, more compassionate and effective system,” said Adamson. Pagliuchi-Lor has echoed the sentiment, highlighting the importance of making the asylum system more efficient and creating a cooperative international environment for the protection of asylum seekers’ human rights.

Header image by Markus Spiske, via Unplash

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