Home News Boris Johnson sets out plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda amid...

Boris Johnson sets out plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda amid furious backlash


A furious row broke out on Thursday over government plans to send “tens of thousands” of asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.

Although the move was branded “irresponsible” and unworkable by opposition politicians and human rights groups, the Prime Minister used a landmark speech at Lydd Airport in Kent to insist the new hardline immigration policy would be “fully compliant” with Britain’s international legal obligations.

But he accepted that the agreement with the Rwandan government, which was being signed by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta on Thursday morning in the African nation’s capital Kigali, was likely to face a legal challenge.

The Home Office said the first people to be relocated to Rwanda will receive formal notifications in the coming weeks and the first flights are expected to take place in the coming months. It added that anyone arriving illegally in the UK could be eligible.

Mr Johnson said: “Let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants.

We are confident that our new Migration Partnership is fully compliant with our international legal obligations, but nevertheless we expect this will be challenged in the courts.”

The Home Office announced that under the agreement, migrants who make dangerous or illegal journeys, such as by small boat or hidden in lorries, will have their asylum claim processed in Rwanda.

It added that “those whose claims are accepted will then be supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest-growing economies”.

It has been reported that the new system is aimed at male, adult economic migrants without a legal claim to asylum in the UK who will then be flown more than 4,000 miles to the landlocked African country where they will be encouraged to settle to help alleviate a shortage of labour.

Others will be sent to a new asylum seekers reception centre in Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire.

Mr Johnson said the deal with Rwanda — which comes after previous failed attempts to strike similar agreements with other places including Ascension Island, Albania and Gibraltar — was “uncapped” and Rwanda “will have capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”.

He added that it was one of several steps the Government was taking to crack down on what he described as the “evil trade” of people smuggling.

Along with the new partnership with Rwanda – labelled a world first by the Home Office – Mr Johnson also outlined other parts of its long-term asylum plan including:

  • The Nationality and Borders Bill which will allow Britain to distinguish between people coming to the UK legally and illegally.

Mr Johnson said this distinction will determine how asylum claims are progressed and will “enable us to issue visa penalties against those countries that refuse to accept returns of foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers”.

He added that it “will clean up the abuse of our legal system, introducing a one-stop shop that will end the cycle of last minute and vexatious claims and appeals that so often thwart or delay removals”.

  • Handing operational command for identifying, intercepting and investigating illegal boats carrying asylum seekers across the Channel to the Royal Navy from Thursday.

Mr Johnson said there would be “£50m of new funding” for new boats, aerial surveillance and military personnel with the aim that “no boat makes it to the UK undetected”.

  • Ending the system of accommodating people who make it to the UK in “hotels at vast public expense” and instead housing them in special accommodation centres.

At the same time the Prime Minister said the UK would expand its immigration detention facilities and invest half a billion pounds “to assist with the removal of those with no right to remain in the UK”.

He emphasised the UK could no longer be seen as a “soft touch” by Britain’s partners after more than 28,000 people reached the English coast in small boats last year and 27 drowned while attempting to cross the Channel. “Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not,” he said.

Addressing questions about Rwanda’s human rights record and reports of migrants facing ill treatment and torture, Mr Johnson told reporters: “There’s a risk of stereotypes. Rwanda has totally transformed over the last few decades.”

He added that the UK was “making sure we have a high degree of confidence” in how migrants flown from the UK will be treated and urged people not to think in a “blinkered way”.

“I think this is the prototype of a solution to the problem of global migration flows that are likely to be adopted by other countries,” he said referring to other European nations such as Denmark who have been in discussions with the African country about similar arrangements.

The Home Office said that it would invest £120m into the economic development and growth of Rwanda as part of the partnership. Funding will also be provided to support the delivery of asylum operations, accommodation and integration, similar to the costs incurred in the UK for these services, it added.

Ms Patel said: “Existing approaches have failed and there is no single solution to tackle these problems. Change is needed because people are dying attempting to come to the UK illegally.”

Mr Biruta added: “There is a global responsibility to prioritise the safety and well-being of migrants, and Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants, and offer them legal pathways to residence.

“This is about ensuring that people are protected, respected, and empowered to further their own ambitions and settle permanently in Rwanda if they choose.”  

The Government said migrants successfully granted refugee status in Rwanda will be given full rights and will be helped to fully integrate with a 5-year package of training and support.  

If unsuccessful, they could still be granted an immigration status or be removed to their country of origin or other country where they have a right to reside. 

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the plan was “unworkable, unethical and extortionate” and accused the Government of attempting to “distract from Boris Johnson’s lawbreaking”.

Mr Johnson has been fined, along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his wife Carrie, for breaking lockdown laws and faces the prospect of more partygate fines in the coming weeks.

Although the negotiations with Rwanda have been going on for months, one senior Tory — the chair of the defence committee Tobias Ellwood — also accused Mr Johnson of using the announcement, which will be popular with the Right of the Conservative Party, as a distraction.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Ellwood said: “He’s trying to make an announcement today on migration, and all of this is a massive distraction. It’s not going away. It is a crisis. It requires crisis management. There needs to be a plan.”

Ian Blackford, Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party, branded the plan “chilling” and said people would be “aghast”. “This is not the mark of a civilised society,” he said. “It’s evil, it just turns my stomach to see a government acting in our name can behave in such a way and a lot of people are going to be quite aghast.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the plan to fly male adult economic migrants to Rwanda was “irresponsible”.

He added: “Sending people to another country — let alone one with such a dismal human rights record — for asylum ‘processing’ is the very height of irresponsibility and shows how far removed from humanity and reality the Government now is on asylum issues.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive, of the Refugee Council, said the plan wouldn’t stem the flow of illegal migrants across the Channel. He told BBC: “The way to address this is not to ship people across the globe to Rwanda. The way to address this is to come up with proper solutions that really make a difference.”