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Why the UK Needs to Reassess Its Rwanda Asylum Strategy

In April 2022, the UK government established a contentious agreement with Rwanda, dubbed the ‘Migration and Economic Partnership’, aiming to deport asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. This plan, however, has faced significant legal challenges and public outcry. In November 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled it unlawful, prompting the government to pass new legislation, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act, to circumvent these legal hurdles and affirm Rwanda as a safe destination.

Operational Mechanics of the Plan

The plan proposes that once refugees are relocated to Rwanda, they will be processed under Rwandan jurisdiction and lose the right to return to the UK. Despite the government’s intentions, no deportations have occurred yet due to legal interventions, with the first scheduled flight cancelled in June 2022. The policy has drawn criticism for potentially jeopardising the well-being of vulnerable individuals who seek refuge in the UK.

Motivations Behind the Policy

The UK government justifies the Rwanda Plan as a deterrent against people smuggling and perilous small boat crossings. The Home Office argues that this strategy would address asylum requests in Rwanda for individuals deemed to have entered through illegal and hazardous means. Nevertheless, this initiative fails to acknowledge the protections guaranteed under the Refugee Convention, which uphold the right to seek asylum regardless of the method of arrival.

Five Reasons to Reconsider the Rwanda Plan

  1. Ethical Considerations: The UK’s response to the crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan has shown public support for protecting refugees. Policies that treat vulnerable people as criminals can harm their mental and emotional well-being.
  2. Violation of International Laws: The plan conflicts with the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the UK has ratified. This convention protects asylum seekers’ rights and prohibits penalising them based on their entry method into the country.
  3. Shared Global Responsibility: Given the large number of refugees globally, many of whom are being accommodated by neighbouring or developing nations facing challenges, it is imperative for the UK to strengthen its involvement in international refugee protection instead of delegating its duties to others.
  4. Ineffectiveness and Costs: Comparable approaches in various nations, such as Australia’s offshore processing, have failed to reduce arrivals and have resulted in considerable human and financial expenses. The United Kingdom has already allocated a significant amount of money towards the Rwanda Plan, but it has not produced the desired outcomes.
  5. Economic and Social Benefits of Integrating Refugees: Allowing refugees to work can provide economic benefits to the host country. Lifting employment bans for asylum seekers could significantly boost the UK’s economy and alleviate pressures on public services by enabling refugees to contribute to society.

Call to Action from the IRC

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) advocates for a revision of the UK’s approach to handling asylum seekers, emphasising adherence to international commitments and enhancing safe, legal pathways for refugees. The IRC’s global experience emphasises the potential economic and social contributions of refugees when given opportunities to integrate and contribute to their host communities.

The UK’s proposed asylum seeker policy towards Rwanda has raised significant ethical, legal, and practical concerns. By adopting a more compassionate approach that respects international obligations and recognises the benefits of refugee integration, more positive outcomes may be achieved for all parties involved.