'Cruel and inhumane' - UK plan to fly asylum-seekers to Rwanda sparks outrage

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By Joshua Askew  with AP
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel, Thursday April 14.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel, Thursday April 14.   -  Copyright  Gareth Fuller/PA via AP

The UK's plan to fly asylum-seekers to Rwanda has sparked fierce criticism, while Johnson says it is necessary to stop "people smugglers." 

On Thursday, the UK announced a 120 million pound deal with Rwanda that would see asylum-seekers being flown thousands of miles to the east African country. 

Opposition politicians and refugee groups across the UK criticised the plan as inhumane, unworkable and a waste of public money. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the controversial move would stop "vile" people-smugglers from sending migrants on dangerous voyages across the English Channel. 

Under the proposal, people who arrive in Britain on boats crossing the channel or as stowaways would be picked up by the UK government and relocated 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) to Rwanda, without a clear indication of what would happen to them afterwards.

The Rwandan government said Britain has already paid 120 million pounds ($158 million) towards housing and integrating the migrants in an agreement lasting five years. 

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the UK-based Refugee Council, described the plans as “dangerous, cruel and inhumane.”

Rwanda, the most densely populated nation in Africa, is rife with ethnic and political tensions, and produces many refugees itself. 

The country suffered a devastating genocide in 1994 where more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus were massacred. 

Johnson insisted that Rwanda had “totally transformed” since then, denying the plan was "lacking in compassion." 

But human rights groups have repeatedly criticised the current government in Rwanda, led by Paul Kagame, as repressive and corrupt.

Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the claim Rwanda was a safe country “is not grounded in reality.”

“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities are commonplace, and fair trial standards are flouted in many cases,” he said.

The UK said relocation decisions would be based on whether migrants had used “illegal or dangerous routes” to reach the country, not their country of origin. 

Not all arrivals would be considered for relocation to Rwanda, although it was unclear what the criteria for making the decisions would be.

Migrants and refugees have tried to enter the UK by hiding in ferries or trucks from France or crossing the channel in small vessels for years. 

More than 28,000 people entered the UK in boats last year, up from 8,500 in 2020.

Previous policies of sending migrants and refugee applicants to locations overseas have been highly controversial.

In 2013, Australia began a policy of sending people caught trying to reach the country by boat to Nauru.

While the policy curtailed people-smuggling across the ocean, it was widely criticised as violating international law and for its incredible cost to taxpayers.

Analysis by the Guardian Australia found that the average yearly cost of holding a single asylum seeker on the island of Naura was $4.3m.