Rwanda migration policy breaches international law, says UN refugee agency

The government is braced for the widely criticised plans to be challenged in the courts, which could prove an obstacle to their progress. Credit: PA

The UK’s proposal to send migrants who arrive in Britain unlawfully to Rwanda is “unacceptable” and a breach of international law, the UN’s refugee agency said. The government announced this week it plans to provide failed asylum seekers, including those crossing the Channel in small boats, with a one-way ticket to Rwanda, where they will have the right to apply to live in the African country. Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the UNHCR, told the BBC the agency “strongly condemns outsourcing the primary responsibility to consider the refugee status”, as laid out in the scheme put forward by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel.

Put to her that Australia had effectively deployed a similar tactic to cut migration numbers, Ms Triggs said: “My point is, just as the Australian policy is an egregious breach of international law and refugee law and human rights law, so too is this proposal by the United Kingdom Government. “It is very unusual, very few states have tried this, and the purpose is primarily deterrent – and it can be effective, I don’t think we’re denying that. “But what we’re saying at the UN refugee agency is that there are much more legally effective ways of achieving the same outcome.”

Her comments come as immigration minister Tom Pursglove said "anyone" who has arrived in the UK "through illegal means" since the start of the year could be sent to Rwanda.

Mr Pursglove added that the government is "getting into the stage where we implement this policy quickly".

The prime minister is reportedly keen for the first flight carrying those deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally to leave late next month, marking the start of proposals to move thousands within the next few years.

But the government is braced for the widely criticised plans - branded "evil" and "despicable" by critics and charities - to be challenged in the courts, which could prove an obstacle to their progress.

Andrew Griffith, the director of policy at No 10, said it is hoped the scheme will be operational in “weeks, or a small number of months”.

Andrew Griffith, the director of policy at No 10, said it is hoped the scheme will be operational in ‘weeks, or a small number of months’ Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Asked when he expects the first person will be sent to Rwanda, the Conservative MP told BBC Newsnight: “It doesn’t require new legislation – we think that we can do this under the existing conventions.

“And therefore this should be possible to be implemented and operationalised in weeks, or a small number of months. So we are ready to go in that sense.”

Speaking to Sky News on Friday morning, Mr Pursglove said the government is "determined to get on and deliver this policy as quickly as possible without needless delay.

"We are now getting into the stage where we implement this policy quickly and anyone who has arrived in the United Kingdom from January 1 is in scope to be relocated to Rwanda if they've arrived through illegal means.

"That is an important point to get across.

"If you've arrived since then, it could well be that you are transferred as part of this arrangement."

Immigration minister Tom Pursglove told ITV News that anyone granted asylum in Rwanda will be able to "rebuild their lives there with all the opportunity that that presents"

Mr Pursglove said the scheme would allow those sent to Rwanda to embark on “fully prosperous” lives in the central African country if they were granted asylum there, while simultaneously crushing the “cruel” business model of human traffickers.

The Conservative MP argued that, while the short-term costs would be “pretty equivalent” to what the UK is paying currently to accommodate those claiming asylum, the Rwandan scheme would eventually save taxpayers money.

However, former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said it would be cheaper to put those arriving in Britain up at The Ritz hotel in London’s Mayfair for a year.

In its criticisms, Labour has cited Australian Refugee Council offshoring figures, demonstrating that it had cost Australia more than £5 billion since 2013 to send 3,127 people to Papua New Guinea and Nauru as part of a similar policy.

Both the PM and Home Secretary Priti Patel have acknowledged the plans could be challenged in the courts.

The costs of the programme remain uncertain, but The Times reported that each migrant sent to Rwanda is expected to set British taxpayers back between £20,000 and £30,000.

The newspaper said this would cover accommodation both before and after the journey, as well as the cost of a seat on the flight itself.

It comes as the home secretary has struck a £120-million economic deal with Rwanda, and cash for each removal is expected to follow.

On Thursday, protesters wielding signs with the message “refugees welcome here” gathered outside the Home Office, declaring their intention to “fight back” against the move.

Charities condemned the plans as “cruel and nasty”, claiming they would fail to address the issue and cause more “suffering and chaos”, while criticising Rwanda’s human rights track record.

But Mr Johnson insisted the scheme was not “draconian and lacking in compassion”.

Giving a major speech in Kent, he said the agreement was “uncapped” and Rwanda would have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”.

Boris Johnson is said to have accused ‘senior members of the clergy’ of having ‘misconstrued’ the Rwanda policy Credit: Matt Dunham/PA

He said the partnership would be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations”, while insisting Rwanda was “one of the safest countries in the world”.

“But nevertheless, we expect this will be challenged in the courts,” Mr Johnson added, as he hit out at what he called a “formidable army of politically motivated lawyers”.

During a visit to the Rwandan capital of Kigali, Ms Patel said the Home Office was prepared for legal challenges, as she accused lawyers of “fleecing the British taxpayer”.

Stephanie Boyce, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, warned there were “serious questions” about whether the plans complied with international law.

“It is particularly disappointing – this week of all weeks – the government is repeating misleading suggestions that legal challenges are politically motivated,” she said.

“If the government wishes to avoid losing court cases, it should act within the law of the land.”

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