In April of this year, home secretary Priti Patel set out a new plan of the U.K. government. The plan aims to address the number of migrants arriving in the U.K. through unofficial channels by sending such individuals to Rwanda. Last week, both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss promised more deals of this nature if either were to become Prime Minister. It is therefore important now to analyse the dangerous consequences of this partnership.
The “Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda” has two key objectives. Firstly, it aims to remove people who have made dangerous journeys to the U.K. and who are considered inadmissible to the asylum system. In accordance with regulations set out at the start of 2021, an inadmissible individual is someone who has passed through or has a connection with a safe country. The agreement will allow the U.K. to send such individuals to Rwanda. Rwanda would then consider and process their claim, either granting them permission to stay in Rwanda or requiring them to return to their country of origin.
The second objective is to tackle the people smuggling business. It is this practice which accounts for the images we see and stories we read so regularly in the news: small and unsafe boats loaded with asylum seekers or lorries discarded with dozens of migrants hiding in the back. Migrant smuggling is the act of illegally assisting migrants to enter or stay in a country, and it may be committed for financial or material gain. The smugglers profit from desparate and vulnerable migrants who lack the access to safe routes. They employ dangerous and exploitative methods, leaving migrants exposed to other crimes during the smuggling process. They can become victims of severe human rights violations as well as human trafficking in the country of destination.
Migrant smuggling and the movement of people to the U.K. through dangerous and unofficial channels are undoubtedly major concerns. However, the “Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda” is riddled with contradictions, as well as harmful, unintended consequences. It also sets a dangerous precedent for the treatment of migrants across the globe.
The leading unintended consequence of this plan is the opportunity it presents for human traffickers. Trafficking for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation is rife in Rwanda. Traffickers will make false promises of paid work, and migrants, especially those who are fleeing conflict or persecution, are significantly at risk of being targeted. The United States 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report found that the Rwandan government lacked a victim-witness support program, that it did not maintain shelters for male victims and that the country investigated, prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers than in 2020. Priti Patel herself stated that out of every 10 migrants that cross the channel, seven are men under 40. It is well documented that this demographic are at high risk of being trafficked for forced labour. If the U.K. sends migrant men to Rwanda, it will be a recipe for exploitation, perpetuating the cycle of trafficking.
The 2021 report also found that trafficking between border nations in Rwanda is a pressing issue. This is due to the trilateral agreement among the governments of Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda which allows foreign nationals to use national identification in lieu of a passport, making it easier to transport victims across borders. In short, migrants will be sent from the U.K. to a country with a weaker human trafficking prevention system, putting vulnerable people in an environment where the risk of exploitation is high.
A major contradiction in the plan is Rwanda itself. The pictured painted of the country by Amnesty International Report 2021/2022 on the state of the worlds’ human rights is not promising. Rwanda continues to violate the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy. Also recorded are enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force. The rights of LGBTQ people in Rwanda are also unprotected. It is perhaps ironic that such conditions cause many Rwandans to flee and seek asylum in the U.K. The British government, meanwhile, has commented on the injustice in Rwanda and expressed their concerns over restrictions to media freedom and the denial of civil and political rights. Most notably for the purposes of this discussion, the U.K. actually criticised Rwanda last year, urging them to screen, identify and provide support for trafficking victims, including those held in Government transit centres. The contradictions lies, then, in the U.K’s assessment that Rwanda is the best place to send their unwanted migrants. There is a hypocrisy and an inconsistency which undermines the agreement’s credibility.
In addition to the issues highlighted above, the “Migration and Economic Development Partnership” sets a dangerous precedent for the treatment of asylum seekers who may be fleeing conflict. Human rights activists, the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Refugee Agency have all called the partnership’s legality into question, asking whether it is compatible with the U.K’s obligations under international refugee and human rights laws. The plan, therefore, sends the following message to other nation states: no matter your country’s legal obligations, vulnerable migrants are a problem to be offloaded onto someone else.
The Rwandan partnership is designed in part to prevent migrants fleeing to the U.K. through unofficial channels, a dangerous journey which often involves people smugglers. A better way of tackling this issue would be to create viable and safe routes of passage.
Currently, there are only three safe and legal routes to the UK: “The Family Reunification Rules”, “Syrian Resettlement Programme” and “Section 67 Leave – the Dubs Amendment.” All three are flawed, and the number of people who use, let alone succeed in using, these routes is low. No application form exists and the Home Office expects people to physically reach the UK before an asylum application can be submitted. Since the routes are in this condition, many migrants are forced to undertake a dangerous, illegal journey which often requires them to pay people smugglers.
One example of a safe and legal solution which could be adopted is that of humanitarian visas. Humanitarian visas are short term visas issued by states to individuals, permitting them to enter a certain state to ask for asylum. They are a viable solution for dealing with migrants inadmissible to the U.K. asylum system because they give them a chance to explain why they cannot return to their first country of asylum. The U.K. would then provide the travel documents needed to lawfully enter another state.
If individuals had the option to travel to the U.K. through official channels, the demand for the dangerous travel services of people-smugglers would decrease. In this way, the introduction of humanitarian visas would seriously damage the people smuggling trade. This is one of the key aims of the “Migration and Economic Development Partnership” and humanitarian visas would be a preferable means to achieve this.
Not only this, but humanitarian visas would set a positive precedent for other nations. Seeking asylum is not illegal, and the U.K. should be setting an example to other states in how to help those fleeing persecution, poverty and conflict. Such a solution would also ensure that the U.K. is abiding to its obligations under Refugee and International law. Additionally, humanitarian visas would help to ensure that people fleeing dangerous situations are settled in safe destinations where their human rights are secure.
If the U.K. government is serious about cracking down on people smugglers and combatting unofficial and dangerous journeys, it must invest money in creating safe routes of passage. It must not invest in the “Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda.”
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