The government’s plan to send asylum seekers illegally entering the UK to Rwanda has outraged many, from politicians and charities to the Church of England.
The UK government has defended the policy, with Ms Patel stating in the Commons the current dispersal system in the UK is “unfair” and overwhelmed, with local authorities sharing the burden “disproportionately”. Meanwhile Mr Johnson said it was the “morally right thing to do”.
The policy has received a great deal of backlash but it is not revolutionary, with Denmark, Israel and Australia having implemented similar mandates in recent years.
Sky News looks at the Rwanda plan, why it has been criticised and how it is similar to plans put in place by some other countries.
What is the policy?
The government has said it intends to send people to Rwanda who have arrived in the UK “illegally”, after travelling through safe “third” countries.
It says, however, that not everyone who takes these routes will be considered for removal. The Home Office says only those who are “safe” to relocate will be flown to Rwanda, with every case being considered on an individual basis.
Many of those who will be “within scope”, as the Home Office terms it, will be those who have travelled to the UK via small boats crossing the Channel, as the government says they frequently reach the UK because of people smugglers.
The UK government maintains that the policy will discourage people smuggling, and should, in time, close down illegal migrant routes like the crossing of the Channel.
Under the new policy, migrants may go back to a safe third country where they were before, another with which they have some connection, or any other safe country that will accept them and the government says it “would never return an individual to a country where they would face a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment”.
But, if they go to Rwanda, the migrants will be housed and fed, with the cost being paid by the UK government, and Rwanda says they will then be assessed and given Rwandan asylum seeker status, meaning they will be free to move around and get jobs, if they wish.
In exchange, Rwanda is reportedly being given £120m.
What is the criticism?
In Rwanda, according to US non-profit Freedom House’s 2020 report: “Young Congolese and Burundian refugees are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and coerced recruitment into armed groups linked to Rwandan security forces.”
An expert in forced migration told Sky News: “The Rwandan government has a fragile reputation and they don’t have many ways of scoring international credibility points.
“The UNHCR is very upfront about the fact that refugees have struggled to enjoy their rights in Rwanda.”
The policy, according to Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, would help improve Rwanda’s status globally.
“Rwanda has a growing economy and welcomes the cash. It also sees it from a status and respect perspective. It is still recovering from the genocide and its extremely murky involvement in Congo,” he told Sky News.
“You’ve got a system where Rwanda has all the power in the relationship and the UK will continue to pay through the nose in the hope that somehow this is going to deliver some sort of result that politicians here will welcome.”
Australia’s use of offshore detention centres
Australia became one of the first countries to use offshore detention centres in 2001 when it announced refugees will be sent to centres in Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru.
The Pacific Solution was hardened in 2013 to deny resettlement visas to any refugees arriving by boat.
It followed a steep rise in the number of people arriving in Australia by boat in 2011 and 2012 from countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka – a trend that had started with the “boat people” who fled Vietnam following the end of the war in the 1970s.
The rise in the number of migrants arriving in Australia at that time reflected what was happening in some other Western countries, such as France and Germany, but not the UK.
Australia admitted hundreds of thousands of migrants to stay annually before the pandemic, with around 13% of those being given “humanitarian” permanent visas, often because they were refugees or asylum seekers, in 2019/20.
After the scheme to move migrants who arrived by boats was reintroduced in 2013 – when the number arriving hit 20,587 – people arriving via the sea dropped to almost zero, according to figures from the Australian Refugee Council.
Nauru still houses 112 refugees but centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, where 120 were detained, closed after Papua’s supreme court ruled the centres were “illegal”.
Refugees were either transferred to Nauru or stayed in Papua New Guinea to start the process of becoming permanent citizens.
Human rights groups have criticised the conditions in the centres, where 13 people have died from violence, medical inattention or suicide, and they have remained highly controversial.
Australia argues its offshoring policy means deaths at sea are prevented and the government estimates it will spend A$260m (£148.4m) on offshore processing by 2023.
In March, a three-year deal was announced for 450 refugees to be sent from Australia to resettlement centres in New Zealand.
Some experts say the opening of the centres was political, having been proposed the year before an election, but a spokesperson for Australia’s Home Affairs department said: “Australia’s multi-layered approach to maritime people smuggling, including boat turn backs, regional processing and no settlement in Australia, is successful.
“Australia’s policies have successfully stemmed the flow of illegal maritime arrivals to Australia, disrupted people smuggling ventures within the region, and prevented loss of life at sea.”
The UK government says the scheme to send people to Rwanda is not like that in Australia as migrants are not detained.
Israel’s voluntary deportation programme
Israel has seen a growing number of refugees arriving from Sudan and Eritrea.
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government introduced a “voluntary” policy in 2015 that saw an unnamed country – reportedly Uganda and Rwanda – take refugees.
Migrants were given a choice to return to their country, accept payment of £2,700 and a plane ticket to east Africa or be put in jail if they stayed in Israel.
By 2018, almost 30% of migrants Israel said had entered the country illegally had left.
The voluntary deportation programme was heavily criticised as there was no guarantee of a migrant’s legal status or protection against further deportation, with almost 20,000 people protesting against it in Tel Aviv in March 2018.
A later plan to forcibly deport refugees was tabled in 2018 but collapsed after a supreme court ruling.
Israel’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
Denmark’s ‘zero’ refugees policy
As part of its 2019 election mandate, Denmark’s ruling Social Democratic party said a core policy was to process asylum applications outside the European Union.
The government has a “zero” refugees policy and started revoking residence permits from Syrian refugees last year.
In June 2021, legislation was passed allowing refugees to be sent to a country outside the EU to be processed and Denmark has had talks with countries in and outside the EU about a potential arrangement, potentially involving Tunisia and/or Ethiopia.
Last year, Denmark’s immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with Rwanda, which led to speculation that a processing facility would be opened in east Africa.
The Danish government has agreed to provide funding for any asylum system.
In a report published in January by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, between 2015 and 2020 almost five million asylum applications were logged, with 52% rejected.
It cost the Danish government €40,300 (£33,523) to accommodate one rejected asylum seeker in a return centre, with a €34m (£28.3m) outlay to accommodate rejected refugees.
Mr Tesfaye has recently said Denmark is in talks with Rwanda to transfer asylum seekers to east Africa.
According to Zachary Whyte, Associate Professor at the Center for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS) at the University of Copenhagen, who wrote in a recent blog post: “The Danish plans involve an initial screening of asylum seekers for vulnerability, before they are transferred to a third country, which could be Rwanda.
“Their asylum cases will be processed there. If they are recognised as refugees, they will be settled there. If not, their possible deportation will be the responsibility of that third country.”
Mr Tesfaye said the current system is “unsustainable” and over 22,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, adding the UK agreement is a “good step forward”.
“We are in dialogue with Rwanda, and we have a good cooperation based on a broad partnership, but we do not have an agreement on transfer of asylum seekers,” he added.
EU’s managed migration programme to Niger
As well as individual countries, the EU has acted in a number of ways to try to slow or stop migrants coming across the sea, including by undertaking deportations to a processing centre in a third country.
This came after widespread concern about the number of migrants dying while trying to cross from north Africa to Mediterranean EU countries, particular in 2015, but in the years afterwards too, especially after the route through Turkey was curtailed as a result of an agreement to contain migrants before they set off for Greece.
At least 3,000 migrants from Libya who were heading for Europe have been transferred to the Niger capital of Niamey in recent years by the UNHCR, in concert with the EU’s migration management programme.
The EU has hailed it a success, with the Commission saying that Sahara crossings fell from 70,000 in May 2016 to 1,500 by November 2019, according to PhD student Richard Vogt, who has written about the subject for the Oxford University Faculty of Law’s blog.
But Mr Vogt says the claims are misleading as “the knowledge of government surveillance in the region merely reroutes the journeys of those desperate to cross”.
“Despite being less, the convoys into Libya are more dangerous than ever,” he adds. “As the fleets travel hundreds of kilometres around the traditional route north, they expose themselves to areas with a higher militia presence. Alongside landmines, visible evidence of dead bodies exist scattered across the desert.”