UNHCR denounces Johnson's Rwanda asylum plan, calls it "unworkable"
The assistant high commissioner at the UNHCR condemned Boris Johnson's plan and called it a "symbolic gesture."
Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR's associate high commissioner, told The Guardian that the arrangement would be exceedingly costly, unlawful, and discriminatory.
Under a controversial deal announced Thursday, Britain will send migrants and asylum seekers who cross the Channel thousands of miles away to Rwanda, as the government tries to reduce the record number of people making the perilous journey.
In a speech near Dover in southeastern England, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "From today... anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda."
On Friday, ministers claimed the move would save money in the "longer-term," despite the high cost of £30,000 ($39,180) for relocating an individual.
However, government officials say the predicted deluge of court challenges may drive up the price significantly, with some suggesting it might be two years before anybody is flown to Rwanda.
According to UNHCR Home Office sources, authorities are bracing for court reviews and a flood of immigration tribunals over the legality of attempts to offshore asylum seekers who arrive after crossing the Channel on tiny boats.
Despite a budgetary protest from her department's permanent secretary, Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a "ministerial direction" authorizing the policy's implementation.
According to a Home Office source, the ministerial instruction was given because the long-term savings produced by the new policy could "not be calculated with confidence," but Patel did not want "a lack of accurate modeling" to hold up the decision.
Thousands to be moved
Downing Street has stated that thousands of asylum seekers are expected to be moved within the first few years of the plan.
Triggs accused the UK of “attempting to shift its burden to a developing country” and warned that the arrangement signed off by Patel “would not comply with the UK’s international legal responsibilities”, adding: “All the indications are that it will be unworkable.”
Triggs continued: “We want to end the vulnerability of people on the move to people-trafficking and of course, we want to stop people drowning, but we strongly disagree with victimizing the very people who need protection. There should instead be an increase in legal pathways to the UK.”
“We are a politically neutral, humanitarian body – it’s not really for me to comment on the politics,” Triggs said.
“But we are in an environment in which populist governments will appeal to their rightwing, anti-migrant sentiment and this would presumably be part of that.”
Two former Conservative international development secretaries spoke out against the strategy on Friday, casting doubt on the government's ability to fly anybody to Rwanda.
Rory Stewart told the Guardian that there was a "very strong possibility" that this decision was "rushed out to divert people" from the prime minister being punished by police for attending a Downing Street party that violated Covid restrictions. Stewart, a minister under Theresa May, stated that it was difficult enough to return nationals of some nations to their birthplaces when he was in office.
Stewart visited Rwanda earlier in the month, and stated it was “one of the very poorest countries on Earth” and a “particularly extreme environment into which to put people”.
The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell called the plan impractical, immoral, and incredibly costly.
He argued that it would be cheaper to put asylum seekers in the Ritz hotel in London than to send them back.
Triggs also cautioned that the UK was taking a discriminating attitude to migrants, giving an unlimited plan for Ukrainian asylum applicants and a "draconian" system for refugees from other nations.
“At the political level, we are seeing levels of discrimination,” Triggs said. “We are deeply concerned that the processes appear to be discriminatory. One of the fundamental principles of international law is non-discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity or nationality.”
In addition, 150 British refugee organizations issued Johnson a letter warning that the proposal would "cause immense suffering" and "result in more, not fewer, dangerous journeys - leaving more people at risk of being trafficked."
The signatories stated that Rwanda has a "poor record on human rights" and that the most vulnerable individuals will "bear the brunt."
Alf Dubs, a Labour peer who was a child refugee, told the Guardian that he expected a "battle" over the subject. The Bishop of Durham, who also serves in the House of Lords, has expressed his objection to the policy, calling it "wrong in so many ways."
Home Office minister Tom Pursglove praised the Rwanda project, claiming that it would "crush" the economic model of people traffickers and reduce the expense of sheltering all those who enter the UK illegally, which he estimated to be £5 million ($6.53 million) per day.
In addition to the £120 million ($156.7 million) invested in the plan, Pursglove stated that "we will continue to make contributions to Rwanda as they process the cases, in a manner that is similar to the amount of money we are spending on this currently here in the UK."
“We are spending £5m per day accommodating individuals who are crossing in hotels. That is not sustainable and is not acceptable and we have to get that under control.”
It is worth mentioning that Emmanuel Macron has recently slammed Boris Johnson's government for making Ukrainian refugees unwanted in the UK amid its claims of being the world leader in aiding war victims.
The French President was scathing about Johnson's approach to people fleeing from Ukraine as he spoke at the close of an EU summit in Versailles.