Why is the UK Deporting Migrants to Rwanda?

Image by [2Ni].

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised, as part of a long-simmering controversy, that migrants arriving in the country without permission will be sent to Rwanda rather than be allowed to claim asylum in the UK.

According to a BBC report, approximately 52,000 migrants have arrived in the UK since the law regarding asylum was changed in 2023 and are in line for deportation. Rwanda has now signed a five-year deal with the UK, with costs estimated to be an astronomical £300 million at least.

The UK-Rwanda deal, officially known as the “Rwanda Asylum Partnership Agreement,” is a controversial policy agreed upon by the UK and Rwanda in April 2022 under former Home Secretary Priti Patel. Her successor, Suella Braverman, also advocated for the plan until she was fired in 2023.

Under this agreement, the UK plans to deport certain asylum seekers to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. If granted refugee status, these individuals would remain in Rwanda rather than returning to the UK.

The UK Government published the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill just after signing the agreement with Rwanda.

But why is the UK deporting these migrants? Britain is supposed to be one of the world’s most welcoming countries to migrants.

The deal has faced significant criticism and legal challenges from human rights
organizations, refugee advocacy groups, and some international bodies. Critics have accused the effort as being “racist, illegal and unworkable.” The government’s tough stance on migrants arriving in small boats has been criticized for being racially motivated by anti-racism groups.

Critics also argue that it undermines international protection norms, risks human rights violations, and may not be a humane or effective way to handle asylum seekers. Concerns are also raised about Rwanda’s human rights record, questioning the safety and fairness of processing asylum claims in Rwanda.

It seems there are several motivations behind the UK’s interest in this deal with Rwanda.

The UK government views this policy as a means to deter migrants from making dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK, particularly via crossing the English Channel. The idea is that the possibility of being relocated to Rwanda might discourage people from attempting this route.

The agreement is part of a broader strategy by the UK government to gain greater control over its immigration system, particularly following Brexit. The government argues that the current system is overwhelmed and ineffective at managing the high number of asylum claims.

By transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda, the UK government aims to reduce the costs associated with the asylum process and the maintenance of detention facilities within the UK.

But critics note that under international law, everyone has the right to seek asylum, and countries are obligated to protect people in their territory seeking asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In fact, the UK was one of the original signatories to that convention.

The idea that the UK is spending vast amounts of taxpayer money to pay Rwanda for migrants who are not even arriving there demonstrates that there is already something wrong with this new legislation.

The UK must continue to act as a country that is safe for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. PM Sunak must act immediately to reverse this decision and return the UK to the family of nations that welcomes migrants with open arms.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.