UK condemned for refugee relocation policy

UK condemned for refugee relocation policy

Humanitarian organizations and religious leaders are criticizing the controversial deal to relocate migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said there were “serious ethical questions” about sending refugees and asylum-seekers abroad, while the Office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the deal violates international law and international refugee conventions because it outsources refugee assistance to a third country. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on the other hand, defended his government’s policy, saying Rwanda’s decision to accept refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers detained in the UK is a win-win situation for both countries. Under the so-called Migration and Economic Development Partnership, the UK will pay up to $160 million to Rwanda for accepting refugees and asylum-seekers who have entered the UK illegally through the English Channel.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel described the programme as “innovative” because it will supposedly dismantle human trafficking networks that smuggle mostly African migrants and asylum-seekers to Europe. Patel argued that the deal will serve as a deterrent to would-be migrants and asylum-seekers, who will think twice before entering the UK if there is a possibility that they may end up in Rwanda, a small central African country that is more than 6,000 kilometres away. This contentious agreement comes at a time when the UK and other European countries are faced with a massive influx of Afghans and Ukrainians fleeing their countries.

Apparently, Rwanda was not the UK’s only choice for the relocation of refugees and asylum-seekers landing on its shores. According to Kenyan diplomatic sources, the UK approached the Kenyan government to see if it could accept such a deal, but Kenya declined because “on a cost-benefit analysis, the money being offered is too little to manage these numbers.”

Kenya currently hosts about half a million refugees, more than than half of whom are from Somalia, while the rest are from neighbouring South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. The majority live in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya, though a small number have settled in urban areas including Nairobi. Services such as health and education are mostly provided by the United Nations and humanitarian organisations, not by the Kenyan government.

Rwanda currently hosts about 127,000 refugees, the majority from the DRC and Burundi. African countries currently host about 30 million refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum-seekers. Uganda has the continent’s largest refugee population – 1.4 million people – followed by Sudan and Ethiopia.

With an increasing number of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees in Europe, there are fears that the UK’s deal with Rwanda might be emulated by other European countries that do not want to deal with an influx of refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers. Denmark has signaled that it may be pursuing a similar deal with Rwanda. Although most European countries have demonstrated a willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of their country, the Rwandan example may tempt some countries to relocate other refugees and asylum-seekers to African countries. Importantly, such deals would fly in the face of international conventions and obligations that countries have towards people fleeing war or persecution.

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