Govt signed refugee deal months after condemning Rwanda for human rights abuses

15 April 2022, 00:17 | Updated: 15 April 2022, 12:00

More than 160 other British organisations have condemned the plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda
More than 160 other British organisations have condemned the plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Over 160 charities and campaign groups have called on the Government to scrap "shamefully cruel" plans to send asylum seekers who cross the English Channel in small boats to Rwanda.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Boris Johnson has insisted his scheme to detain and fly migrants more than 4,000 miles to East Africa at the expense of the taxpayer is not "draconian and lacking in compassion".

But Bond, the UK network of NGOs, and more than 160 other British organisations have condemned the plan, claiming it is "fundamentally out of step with widespread public support for refugees in the UK".

It comes after it emerged that just 10 months before the agreement was signed, the UK raised concerns about Rwanda's failure to investigate human rights abuses.

In a statement in July 2021, made by the UK’s international ambassador for human rights Rita French, she expressed "regret" that Rwanda was not conducting "transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture".

The statement continued: "We were disappointed that Rwanda did not support the UK recommendation to screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims, including those held in government transit centres."

Read more: Boris deploys the Navy to stop Channel migrants as fury erupts over Rwanda plans

The revelations have seen over 160 campaign groups sign an open letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel, demanding that the Government scrap the scheme, cease plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act, and "instead create humane and effective solutions" for those seeking refuge in the UK.

"Sending people seeking asylum to Rwanda will cause immense suffering, with the most vulnerable people bearing the brunt," they wrote.

"This is a shamefully cruel way to treat people who have come to the UK to seek protection, fleeing persecution or conflict."

They said to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda would be "cruel and immoral", criticising the country's track record on human rights.

The organisations said that the Government's plan would result in "more, not fewer, dangerous journeys - leaving more people at risk of being trafficked".

They also warned the cost of the plan would be "astronomical".

Read more: Govt's migrant deportation plans 'legalised trafficking', argues Rwandan caller

The amount of money to be spent on the programme remains uncertain but the Home Secretary has struck a £120 million economic deal with Rwanda and cash for each removal is expected to follow.

"The UK Government has promised £120 million to Rwanda for a 'trial'," the letter said.

"This would be on top of the costs of detention, transportation, escorting and legal and administrative costs.

"It is ludicrous that such vast sums are being spent on this plan at the same time the Government has refused to help people hit by the cost-of-living crisis."

It also warned that the carbon footprint generated by the flights would be "immense" and "cannot be justified at this critical moment in the climate crisis".

The organisations set out a series of questions for the Government to answer about the scheme, including whether people will be forced on to planes to Rwanda if they do not want to go.

Read more: 'You don't want them here!': Sadiq Khan's clash with caller who backs Rwanda plans

They also asked if those sent to the country will include torture survivors, survivors of trafficking, children, and people with serious mental health problems.

The letter added: "Ultimately, these plans are fundamentally out of step with public attitudes towards refugees.

"While the Home Office has floundered in its response to Ukrainians and Afghans seeking safety in the UK, the general public has indicated that it welcomes refugees.

"This plan simply cannot pass - we urge you to scrap these plans and the Nationality and Borders Bill, which has not yet passed and has received strong opposition in the House of Lords. We also oppose the proposed overhaul of the Human Rights Act."

Earlier, Mr Johnson said the partnership would be "fully compliant with our international legal obligations", while insisting Rwanda is "one of the safest countries in the world" and is "globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants".

Read more: 'Liberal loveys' should back Boris Johnson's Rwanda strategy, caller insists

A Government spokesperson said: "The world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale. With an estimated 80 million people displaced in the world, change is needed to fix the broken global asylum system and prevent vile people smugglers putting people's lives at risk.

"As part of our plans for reform, we have signed a world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda which will see those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily into the UK relocated to have their claims for asylum considered and, if recognised as refugees, to build their lives there.

"This will help break the people smugglers' business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for the genuinely vulnerable."