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Iran slams UK plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh (File photo)

Iran has censured the UK's plan to forcefully transfer asylum seekers to the East African nation of Rwanda, calling it a breach of international commitments and responsibilities.

London’s decision is contrary to the spirit and text of the convention on asylum seekers, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Friday, noting the move “entirely neglects human and ethical considerations.”

He dismissed as “contrary to human honor” the treatment of refugees like commodities, violently or contemptuously, and while pointing to the Islamic Republic’s hosting of millions of refugees, he further underlined that British government plan to expel refugees come at a time that the country, along with other Western nations have persistently ignored Iran’s efforts in managing and caring for millions of migrants and asylum seekers.

The Iranian diplomat also emphasized that Tehran has been hosting millions of refugees – particularly from neighboring Afghanistan – humanely and with minimum foreign assistance, which has repeatedly been commended and recognized by international organizations on refugee affairs.

He made the remarks after Britain came under harsh criticism – locally and internationally over its plan to send refugees and asylum-seekers thousands of miles away to Rwanda.

London announced on Thursday a deal with Rwanda to send asylum-seekers to the African country, claiming the measure would stop human-smugglers from sending desperate migrants on treacherous journeys across the English Channel.

"From today... anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech near Dover in southeastern England.

He further described the East African nation with a sketchy human rights record as "one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognized for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants."

However, UK’s opposition politicians and refugee groups slammed the move and the UN voiced "strong opposition and concerns" about the agreement.

The world body said people fleeing persecution should not be traded like commodities.

"UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum-seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards," Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection, said in a statement.

"Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the refugee convention.

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

Meanwhile, European Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari noted that it "raises fundamental questions about the access to asylum procedures and protection in line with the demands of international law".

Refugee Action's Tim Naor Hilton said the government was "offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe's former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet."

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