What is The UK-Rwanda Agreement?
On April 14, the United Kingdom announced a deal with Rwanda agreeing to relocate anyone entering the UK illegally to Rwanda. This was agreed upon under former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in hopes of deterring refugees from crossing the English Channel and leading his government to “take back control” of British borders. If implemented, this deal would cause asylum-seekers to be flown around 6,500 km from the UK to Rwanda without their consent. In return, Rwanda would receive 120 million pounds (around 137 million euros) from the UK in development aid programs.
Former British Home Office Minister, Tom Pursglove stated that the cost of this plan would be “similar to the amount of money [the UK is] spending on [the UK’s asylum system] currently” and that in the long term it should help the UK save money. Given BBC estimates, relocating people from the UK by charter flight cost more than 13,000 pounds per person in 2020 before the energy crisis and inflation hit Europe. Estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per transfer of one person from the UK to Rwanda are unclear.
The number of refugees crossing the English channel has not decreased since the UK-Rwanda deal was made public. Given values from October 10, 33,500 people have already made that journey in 2022, constituting the highest number of people to arrive in the UK since the beginning of these records.
In July of this year, during her campaign for Prime Minister, Liz Truss confirmed her intention to continue with the UK-Rwanda deal to carry on Boris Johnson’s hard-line immigration policy. New British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has followed in the footsteps of his short-lived predecessor. Suella Braverman, who was reinstated as Home Secretary, intends to cut net migration to “tens of thousands.” As such, she described the UK-Rwanda deal as her “dream and obsession.”
What Are The Concerns?
The Rwandan government under President Kagame is putting in efforts to portray itself as an altruistic nation within Eastern Africa. It is fostering partnerships with European nations and providing entry to refugees from other African nations including Libya, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. However, President Kagame is authoritarian and his government faces international criticisms regarding the state of human rights protection in Rwanda. According to Amnesty International, freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial and justice are regularly restricted. Rwanda has also imprisoned and threatened to expel refugees, as well as denied entry to LGTBQ+ identifying asylum-seekers.
The United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has also expressed doubts given the legality and morality of the UK-Rwanda deal. It said that the transportation of asylum-seekers to Rwanda must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, the agency is doubtful as to whether Rwanda would be able to guarantee the fair and just treatment of asylum-seekers. As such, the UN has warned the UK of violating international law, saying specifically that the country is disregarding Article 33 of the Refugee Convention of which the UK is a signatory. The article prevents a state from “[expelling or returning] a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” In a statement from January 2021, following their investigation, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department denounced the human rights violations occurring in Rwanda.
On June 14, the first flight from the UK to Kigali, Rwanda, was halted by a last-minute ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The court expressed the need for more time to reach a conclusion given the nature of the case and grounded all flights for three weeks until a judicial review by the UK High Court could be reached.
The Significance of The UK-Rwanda Deal for Refugees and The International Community
Whether the transfer of asylum-seekers will be actualized is still up for debate. The UK courts are currently hearing challenges made by individuals and organizations in order to conclude the legality of the deal. Cases based on the European Convention on Human Rights will likely be brought up again in the ECHR. Due to the number of cases and their complex nature, it will take time before a final decision is made.
Nonetheless, these legal proceedings remain crucial for the international community and the future of refugee protection. According to Yasmine Ahmed, the UK advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, the UK High Court’s ruling could “set a precedent that undermines the international legal regime which protects those fleeing persecution.” The UK, as one of the primary signatories of the Refugee Convention, will influence how other states will interpret these principles and whether the safeguarding of refugees will be protected in the future.
Generally, the UK-Rwanda deal raises questions about the immigration policy and morality of European states. One of the main European economies is deciding to relocate refugees without expressed consent to a nation internationally criticized for its violation of human rights. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call for the creation of a refugee system that actually achieves what it aims to do: protect those who had to flee from violence, hunger, and war.
Featured Image By: Jean Bizimana/Reuters