The story so far: Since 2018, there has been a marked rise in the number of refugees and asylum seekers that undertake dangerous crossings between Calais in France and Dover in England. The number of such persons rose from 297 in 2018, to 28,431 in 2021. Most such migrants and asylum seekers hail from war-torn countries like Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, or developing countries like Iran and Iraq. For the Conservative Party government in Britain that has adopted a hardline stance on illegal immigration, these crossings constitute an immigration crisis. The Nationality and Borders Bill, 2021, which is still under consideration in the U.K., allows the British government to strip anyone’s citizenship without notice under “exceptional circumstances”. The Rwanda deal is the operationalisation of one objective in the Bill which is to “deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger.”
What is the Rwanda Deal?
The U.K. and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership or the Rwanda Deal is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the governments of the U.K. and Rwanda in April 2022. Under this deal, Rwanda will commit to taking in asylum seekers who arrive in the U.K. on or after January 1, 2022, using “illegally facilitated and unlawful cross border migration.” Rwanda will function as the holding centre where asylum applicants will wait while the Rwandan government makes decisions about their asylum and resettlement petitions in Rwanda.
The Rwanda deal is the operationalisation of a key objective in the the U.K. Nationality and Borders Bill, 2021, which is to “deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks...”
Under this deal, Rwanda will function as the holding centre where asylum applicants will wait while the Rwandan government makes decisions about their asylum and resettlement petitions within Rwanda.
According to the U.K. government, this is to combat “people smugglers”, who often charge exorbitant prices from vulnerable migrants to put them on unseaworthy boats from France to England that often lead to mass drownings. The U.K. will pay Rwanda £120 million, bear all operational costs and provide a stipulated amount for each migrant.
The rationale for the deal, according to the U.K. government, is to combat “people smugglers”, who often charge exorbitant prices from vulnerable migrants to put them on unseaworthy boats from France to England that often lead to mass drownings. The U.K. contends that this solution to the migrant issue is humane and meant to target the gangs that run these illegal crossings. Rwanda will, on its part, accommodate anyone who is not a minor and does not have a criminal record. A migrant in the U.K. will be given five days’ notice to pursue an appeals process, failing which they will be given a one-way ticket to Rwanda and will become the responsibility of the Rwandan government. The deal is “uncapped”, i.e., there is no upper limit to how many migrants will be sent to Rwanda for the five years that the deal will remain in place. The MoU also does not have any specific language that outlines the economic right to work, access to healthcare or any financial support provided by the Rwandan government to relocated persons.
What will the scheme cost the U.K.?
The U.K. will pay Rwanda £120 million as part of an “economic transformation and integration fund” and will also bear the operational costs along with an, as yet undetermined, amount for each migrant. Currently, the U.K. pays £4.7 million per day to accommodate approximately 25,000 asylum seekers. At the end of 2021, this amounted to £430 million annually with a projected increase of £100 million in 2022. The Rwanda Deal is predicted to reduce these costs by outsourcing the hosting of such migrants to a third country.
Opposition critics disagree with these initial figures. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper from the Labour Party has stated that Australia paid 10 billion Australian dollars over time to offshore 3,127 migrants and the burden of such costs will eventually fall on the British taxpayer.
Will the Rwanda Deal solve the problem of illegal immigration?
This deal will be implemented in a matter of weeks unless it is challenged and stayed by British courts. While Boris Johnson’s government is undoubtedly bracing for such legal challenges, it remains unclear if the Rwanda Deal will solve the problem of unlawful crossings. Evidence from similar experiences indicates that such policies do not fully combat “people smuggling”. Instead, they create a parallel problem. Australia had inked a similar off-shore processing deal with Papua New Guinea that was challenged through a class-action lawsuit. In 2017, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled that the processing centre on Manus Island was “illegal and unconstitutional” and ordered that Australia pay 70 million Australian dollars as compensation to the 2,000 people detained at this centre. Australia has a similar deal with Nauru, which today remains its only processing station. However, the Nauru Regional Processing Centre witnessed a riot in 2013, where allegations of sexual abuse against women and children and self-harm was reported amongst the inmates. In short, people who were already vulnerable when they attempted dangerous sea-crossings, became more exposed and vulnerable under detention.
Rwanda also has a less than remarkable human rights record. Government critics have been silenced or sentenced to prison. Further, Rwanda’s offshoring deal with Israel was scrapped in 2019. Israel deported a reported 4,000 people from Eritrea and Sudan who arrived in Rwanda and left the country shortly after, sometimes being encouraged to do so. Many attempted to make dangerous crossings back into Europe. Those who stayed behind had difficulty finding employment. The Rwanda Deal is an instrument that will certainly generate revenue for the Rwandan government. However, it also unloads a British issue onto a less developed nation in an attempt to pander to the anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.K..
Vasundhara Sirnate is a political scientist and journalist. She is the creator of the India Violence Archive, a citizen’s data initiative aimed at recording collective public violence in India.