News & Insights

The Rwanda Migrant Plan

The UK Government has announced plans to relocate migrants to Rwanda, but the new scheme is not without its critics.

On Thursday 14 April, the UK Government announced plans to “tackle illegal migration, control our borders and crack down on the criminal gangs exploiting this international crisis”. Under a Migration and Economic Development Partnership signed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-Operation Vincent Biruta, migrants who make “dangerous or illegal journeys” to the UK will have their asylum claims processed in Rwanda. The UK Government claims that “those whose claims are accepted will then be supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest-growing economies, recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants”.

The Home Secretary had this to say: “Today we have signed a world-leading Migration Partnership with Rwanda which can see those arriving dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily into the UK relocated to have their claims for asylum considered and, if recognised as refugees, to build their lives there. This will help break the people smugglers’ business model and prevent loss of life, while ensuring protection for the genuinely vulnerable.”

Indeed, the disruption that this new scheme will purportedly cause to the operations of human traffickers has been touted by the UK Government as one of the partnership’s major benefits. The Government has also claimed that the plans will reduce deaths from people attempting to reach the UK through dangerous means and reduce the cost to the UK taxpayer of housing migrants in hotels.

For Rwanda, the benefits of this partnership are predominantly financial. The UK will invest £120 million into the economic development and growth of Rwanda. Funding is also set to be provided to support the delivery of asylum operations, accommodation and integration. The UK Government has claimed that these costs will be similar to those currently incurred in the UK for these services.

While the Government has praised Rwanda for its economic growth and its positive record on immigration, a number of organisations have questioned whether asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda will truly be able to build a “new and prosperous life”. While Rwanda has experienced rapid economic recovery since the horrific genocide of 1994, the landlocked African state is still ranked only 160th in the Human Development Index rankings, as of 2020. Amnesty International has raised concerns over the Rwandan Government’s approach to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, and allegations of political motivated assassinations orchestrated by the authoritarian President Kagame have resurfaced in recent weeks. The Home Secretary dismissed these claims, stating “We are taking bold and innovative steps and it’s surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans fail to offer their own solutions”.

Perhaps most concerning is Rwanda’s record on hosting refugees. In 2018, Rwandan police killed 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is not Rwanda’s first attempt at taking in migrants under such a scheme either; between 2014 and 2017, about 4,000 people were deported from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda. The vast majority of these almost immediately left Rwanda, with many attempting to return to Europe via people-smuggling routes. It is therefore questionable whether this new partnership will in fact disrupt human trafficking and reduce risk to life or exacerbate the problem while imposing further costs on the UK.

Indeed, former Prime Minister Theresa May inferred that the plans were likely to lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children, stating that she did “not support the removal to Rwanda policy on the grounds of legality, practicality and efficacy”. She was joined in her condemnation of the policy by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who questioned the morality of the scheme, describing it as the “opposite of the nature of God”. The Times has reported that each migrant sent to Rwanda is set to cost British taxpayers between £20,000 and £30,000. These costs are likely to be seen as especially onerous if these migrants are likely to seek to leave Rwanda to return to the UK, as was the case under Israel’s scheme.

It remains to be seen whether these new plans will effectively and safely relocate migrants to Rwanda, or simply exacerbate human trafficking and loss of human life. However, the UK Government anticipates that the scheme could be operational within a matter of weeks. We will keep you informed as more details become available.