The UK will continue to provide financial support to process and resettle asylum seekers in Rwanda long after they have been selected for deportation as part of a new scheme to curb the flow of migrants using irregular routes to reach Britain.
But the government believes the new policy will “break the business model” of people traffickers deploying small boats for migrants to reach the UK, and that with time the flow of migrants will slow significantly, bringing overall costs to the asylum system down too, migration minister Tom Pursglove told the House of Commons home affairs select committee on Wednesday.
“What I am not in a position to do is comment on the numbers (of deportations) we expect this year . . . But if the policy has the effect we think it will, there will be a real drop off,” he said, adding of the Channel crossings: “There is no one single intervention that will resolve this . . . but I do think [the Rwanda policy] will shift the dynamic and genuinely help to deter these journeys.”
Pursglove was answering the first detailed questions from MPs on how the government hopes to operate the contentious policy, which is subject to domestic legal challenges and relies on a UK assessment of Rwanda’s human rights record that is sharply at odds with those of the US Department of State and human rights groups.
The Home Office has said it intends to inform the first group of “illegal migrants with no right to be in the UK” this week of its intention to relocate them to Rwanda. Boris Johnson, prime minister, has said he anticipates thousands of asylum seekers ultimately being deported under the scheme, although MPs raised questions about Rwanda’s capacity to process anywhere near that number.
London and Kigali are setting up a joint committee to oversee the scheme. There will be a separate and independent monitoring committee, Pursglove said, to provide assurance that the policy was carried out in accordance with both countries’ obligations under international refugee and human rights conventions.
Under the terms of the agreement, the UK has granted Kigali a £120mn lump sum at the outset. In addition, Pursglove expected that UK cover for the costs of processing asylum seekers sent to Rwanda under the scheme would be about £12,000 each, similar to costs in the UK.
Migrants deemed “inadmissible” as asylum seekers by the Home Office, would have seven to 14 days with access to legal assistance in which to fight relocation. The bulk of deportees would be those hiding in lorries, or using small boats to cross the Channel, he said.
Questioning whether asylum seekers realistically would resettle in Rwanda, Labour MP Diane Abbott pointed out that of 4,000 refugees deported to the central African country between 2014 and 2017 under a previous agreement with Israel, only nine remained in the country by 2018.
Pursglove countered this by saying that under its agreement the UK would provide continuing financial support to help migrants integrate into Rwandan society with jobs and training. Citing the UK’s assessment of Rwanda’s human rights record, he added: “We do not believe there are systematic breaches of human rights in a way that this policy would not be appropriate.”
The Home Office’s evaluation of Kigali’s record contradicted the US state department’s view of the Kigali government on issues such as torture, unlawful killings and arbitrary detentions, Joanna Cherry the Scottish National party MP pointed out.
Human rights groups have also been scathing.
“This report is not grounded in reality. The Rwandan government has an abysmal record when it comes to guaranteeing internationally recognised refugee rights, statutes and protocols. It’s difficult to imagine a less genuine assessment of Rwanda’s shocking human rights record,” said Lewis Mudge, central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.