Conflict Alerts # 505, 27 April 2022
In the news
On 22 April, Rwanda's president Paul Kagame defended the latest agreement with the UK to relocate asylum seekers to Kigali and said his country was not "trading human beings." Kagame said the UK had approached Rwanda because of how the latter handled Libyans after 2018 when he decided that Rwanda would shelter migrants attempting to cross to Europe who got stuck in Libya.
On 24 April, the UK government's legal department said a "refugee pushback" policy framed earlier to push back refugees arriving on dinghies from France through the English Channel had been withdrawn.
On 20 April, Denmark's immigration minister said they were engaging with Rwanda to frame a process to transfer asylum seekers from Denmark to the latter. The minister said this would "ensure a more dignified approach than the criminal network of human traffickers that characterizes migration across the Mediterranean today."
Issues at large
First, the case of asylum seekers in the UK. The UNHCR estimates that the UK received 63 per cent more asylum applications in 2021, accounting for the highest number of applications in nearly two decades. The UK received 48,450 asylum applications in 2021; Iran, with 9800 applications, was the top nationality applying for asylum in the UK. Other countries included Eritrea, Albania, Iraq and Syria.
Second, profile of the Asylum Partnership Arrangement. Under the latest deal, also known as the Asylum Partnership Agreement, the UK would relocate asylum seekers who arrived in the country irregularly, by boats and trucks, to Rwanda to process the asylum requests. The asylum seekers would receive five years of training, integration, accommodation, and health care in Rwanda. After five years, the asylum seekers may choose to continue living in Rwanda. The UK believes this agreement would ensure the safety of migrants, deter migrants from taking dangerous routes, and tackle people smugglers. The UK has already paid 120 million pounds to Rwanda for a pilot project.
Third, response to the agreement. The UNHCR termed the deal a violation of international law and said it does not come within the "States' responsibility to take care of those in need of protection." The UN said the deal would increase risks as refugees opt for other routes. In Rwanda, the opposition asked the government to address issues which forced Rwandans to flee.
Fourth, the UK's anti-immigration position. The latest plan comes amid the UK government's larger anti-immigrant move. Like the now-withdrawn "refugee pushback" policy, the UK had also framed the nationality and borders bill. The UK Home Secretary had claimed the bill would ensure a safe and legal route for asylum seekers arriving in the UK; later, the Home Office reportedly admitted that the bill does not provide for any government-backed route.
First, the UK's plan to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda is ambiguous on various fronts, including what would happen to those whose asylum requests are rejected by Rwanda. Further, several questions have been raised regarding the state of human rights in Rwanda. In 2021, the UK also expressed concerns over Rwanda's alleged inaction against reports of curbs on civil and media freedom, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.
Second, in 2021, Denmark passed legislation to achieve its zero-refugee goal. Therefore, the UK's deal with Rwanda would act as an example to other countries like Denmark to pursue relocating asylum seekers to third countries.
Third, prior to the UK, Australia and Israel had adopted similar policies. The EU, too, signed a deal with Turkey wherein the latter would host asylum seekers who arrived in the EU countries. However, the results have varied and have not proved that relocation policies necessarily deter asylum seekers.