(LONDON) — Church leaders, politicians and aid groups condemned the U.K. Home Office’s new plan to tackle illegal migration and clamp down on human-trafficking gangs by sending migrants to Rwanda.
The scheme announced on Thursday includes deporting single adult asylum seekers 4,000 miles away to Rwanda, east Africa, where they would be able to apply for asylum. If their cases are approved, they will be allowed to stay in the African country, and, if rejected, they will be deported to their countries.
Under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) with Rwanda, the U.K. aims “to break the business model of people smuggling gangs,” as the Home Office and Secretary of State Priti Patel said in a statement announcing the “world-first” partnership on Thursday.
On Twitter, Patel listed the benefits of the plan, including helping to “deter dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK,” “give migrants the chance of a new life,” and “set a new standard on asylum and resettlement.”
Members of the U.K. Bond network, along with more than 160 charities and campaign groups of non-governmental organizations, criticized the country’s track record on human rights in an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They called on the government to scrap the scheme, describing it as “shamefully cruel” and “immoral.”
The organizations said the government’s plan would result in “more, not fewer, dangerous journeys — leaving more people at risk of being trafficked.”
“I would take this path again and again regardless of the Rwanda deportation threat,” Hami, a 42-year-old single father, told ABC News after his six-month journey from Tehran, Iran, to seek asylum in the U.K.
He was arrested four times in different countries on his way, but was determined to get into the U.K., he said. He asked to use a pseudonym, Hami, for security concerns.
Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, seized the Easter Sunday sermon as a chance to address the government scheme, saying it is “ungodly.”
Johnson said 28,526 people arrived in the U.K. by small boats last year, up from 8,404 in 2020. The daily figure could reach 1,000 people a day in the coming weeks, he added.
Johnson said the £120 million Rwanda scheme would “save countless lives” from human trafficking, and that an “unlimited” number of people could be relocated. He added that the African country has the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead.”
“I know the traffickers are absolute lairs. All they know is the money,” Hami said when asked if he had any trust in the traffickers during his journey. “Just in the last part of my path, the trafficker told me there won’t be more than 30 people on the boat, which was its maximum capacity indeed. But in the last minute, they put 50 people, including nine children and a pregnant woman on it. But what were my other options?”
“Appalled” by the government’s decision to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, described the plan as “cruel and nasty.”
Solomon said it was a policy that stood “in stark contrast” to what every conservative prime minister since Winston Churchill has sought to do by providing a fair hearing on British soil for those who claim asylum.
“The government’s own data shows that two-thirds of men, women and children arriving in small boats across the Channel come from countries where war and persecution has forced them from their homes,” Solomon said.
The plan would “do little to deter them from coming to this country, but only lead to more human suffering and chaos — at a huge expense of an estimated £1.4 billion a year,” he added.
Patel, who stood fully by the scheme, accused its critics of not coming up with an alternative solution. But there are doubts inside the Home Office about whether the budget allocated is justified by quantified evidence of its deterrence effect.
“Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain and cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty,” Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary to the Home Office, wrote to Patel.
Hami knew about the risks of being sent to Rwanda, but he said he did whatever he could to get onto U.K. soil, keeping up his hopes that he would not be sent to Rwanda.
“I did all I could for my daughter. I want a bright future for her and would do all I did again if needed, despite all the risks,” he said.
His 11-year daughter is back home in Tehran staying with his old mother.
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