British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that Ukrainian asylum seekers face being deported to Rwanda forcefully if they travel to the UK without legal authorization, despite his previous promises that such deportations were “simply not going to happen.”
Asked before the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) in the Rwandan capital Kigali, whether Ukrainians arriving by boat could face deportation to east Africa, Johnson said, “I’m afraid the answer is I suppose, yes, in theory that could happen.”
“The only circumstances in which people will be sent to Rwanda would be if they come to the UK illegally, and thereby undermine the safe and legal routes that we have,” he added.
The UK government's Rwanda asylum scheme, a five-year program that aims to deport refugees to Rwanda forcefully, is widely denounced by rights groups and international bodies around the world. The United Nations’ refugee chief has called it “catastrophic.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, denounced the British premier’s move and said, “In stark contrast to the British public who have opened their doors to welcome Ukrainians in desperate search of safety, our prime minister has confirmed that the government is intent on treating them as human cargo to be transported from the UK to Rwanda.”
Furthermore, Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said, “It is disgraceful that the prime minister thinks it is OK to send Ukrainians fleeing war who arrive here without the right papers thousands of miles to Rwanda instead.”
“We have warned repeatedly that this policy is unworkable, unethical, extortionately expensive and risks making people trafficking worse. The prime minister should abandon this now,” Cooper added.
Johnson’s remarks came after he defended his government’s arrangement to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda last week. However, the first flight was blocked at the last minute by the European human rights court.
The Rwandan government has confirmed that it has already received £120 million from the UK government to house asylum seekers who have yet to arrive.
Asked by reporters in Kigali, whether any of the money had already been spent, Rwanda government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said, “Part of it because we needed to get ready and we were ready to receive the first migrants on the 14th.”
Members of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, including Armenia, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy and Turkey lined up to condemn the UK for its conduct over asylum seekers on Thursday.
Germany’s Frank Schwabe, a leading member of the German Bundestag, said, “Rwanda cannot be a partner for any kind of migration agreement. It is very troubling that the UK is prepared to damage respect for [the ECHR) because of a single decision it doesn’t like. The bill [of rights] will create an acceptable class of human rights abuses.”
“You are part of questioning and ultimately destroying this organization and its values. Leave it alone,” he stressed.
The plan was signed with Rwandan government in April and Britain claims that it will stem the flow of dangerous sea trips to the country.