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Britain unveils plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

Priti Patel, Britain's Home secretary, (L) and Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Vincent Biruta sign an agreement that will see migrants who arrive illegally in Britain be processed in Rwanda.&nbsp;Photo courtesy of the government of Rwanda/<a href="https://twitter.com/RwandaGov/status/1514578499452997633?s=20&amp;t=2Zx0xbZ73Q-V1aB7bpahRQ">Twitter</a>
Priti Patel, Britain's Home secretary, (L) and Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Vincent Biruta sign an agreement that will see migrants who arrive illegally in Britain be processed in Rwanda. Photo courtesy of the government of Rwanda/Twitter

April 15 (UPI) -- In an effort to combat illegal immigration, Britain has unveiled a controversial plan to relocate potentially thousands asylum seekers who enter the island nation via the English Channel to Rwanda.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan Thursday during a press conference during which he described it as an effort to maintain London's "world-leading" asylum system while deterring the trade of human smuggling following several high-profile fatal incidents in recent months.

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"This innovative approach," he said, "will provide safe and legal routes for asylum, while disrupting the business model of the gangs, because it means that economic migrants taking advantage of the asylum system will not get to stay in the UK, while those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda, and given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country."

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Only those who are granted refugee status, however, will be allowed to stay in the African nation.

Priti Patel, Britain's Home secretary, explained in a video message that the "heart" of the plan is to create an asylum system to which access is based on need and not one's ability to reach their shores via smugglers.

"The cost to the taxpayer and the flagrant abuses are increasing and the British public have rightly had enough," she said.

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Patel was in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on Thursday to sign the Migration and Economic Development Partnership agreement with Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Vincent Biruta, who said the asylum seekers will be invested in and offered education and employment that will not only aid them but Rwanda.

And those who do not wish to stay in the African country will be returned to their country of origin, Biruta said during a press conference.

"We believe this partnership with the UK offers a bold, unique and innovative approach that will provide safe haven and opportunity for those in need, and be the first, crucial step towards a more effective and humane global migration system," he said.

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Under the agreement, Britain provided an upfront payment of about $157 million, which includes funds for education and vocational, skills and language training.

Along with the plan, Johnson announced the Royal Navy will be taking over operational command of the Channel and more than $65 million has been allotted to furnish the force with new boats, aerial surveillance and military personnel.

"This will send a clear message to those piloting the boats: If you risk other people's lives in the Channel, you risk spending your own life in prison," he said.

Asylum seekers who do make it to the English shores will not be housed in hotels but in centers like camps seen in Greece. Britain will also be expanding its immigration detention facilities to assist with removal operations, he said.

In an effort to undercut criticism, Johnson said he expects the plan to be challenged in court though it is "fully compliant with our international legal obligations."

"We have a plan; what is your alternative?" he asked.

Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection at the United Nations Refugee Agency, expressed "strong concern" about the agreement, accusing Britain of abdicating its international responsibilities concerning asylum seekers to other countries.

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"People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy," she said in a statement. "They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing."

While Rwanda has agreed provide migrants with a safe haven, the majority live in camps with limited access to opportunity, the UNHRC said, adding that it believes wealthier nations must support Rwanda with the refugees it currently has and not the other way around.

According to the Rwandan government, it already provides refuge to nearly 130,000 refugees.

Implementation of the plan hinges on Parliament passing the National and Border Bill to overhaul its asylum system to establish asylum benefits can only go to those who enter Britain through legal though limited avenues. It also introduces a criminal offense for arriving in Britain without clearance, entering illegally or overstaying one's visa. Punishment can be as high as four years' imprisonment.

Despite Johnson complimenting Rwanda for its human rights record, others have criticized it with Amnesty International calling it "dismal" on Thursday and Human Rights Watch stating it has seen severe abuses committed from similar offshore processing plans.

"Rwanda has a known track record of extrajudicial killings, suspicious deaths in custody, unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture and abusive prosecutions, particularly targeting critics and dissidents," it said in a statement. "In fact, the UK directly raised its concerns about respect for human rights with Rwanda, and grants asylum to Rwandans who have fled the country, including four just last year."

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Last year, Britain called on Rwanda to conducted investigations into alleged judicial killings and deaths in custody as well as protect and enable journalists to work freely and screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims, including those held at government transit centers.

According to British data, there were 44,190 asylum applications in 2021.

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