The decision of the British government to sign an agreement with Rwanda for this country to receive asylum seekers who have arrived illegally in the United Kingdom has provoked strong reactions across the Channel. The spiritual leaders of the Anglican Church expressed their disapproval during the Easter Sunday ceremonies. On the same day, Prince Charles, heir to the British crown, paid tribute to refugees and those who open their doors to them.
→ THE FACTS. Illegal migrants arriving in the UK will be sent to Rwanda
The agreement between the United Kingdom and Rwanda, announced on Thursday 14 April, foresees that asylum seekers arriving in the United Kingdom will be sent to Rwanda. “As of today (…) anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 can now be relocated to Rwanda”Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech that day.
A budget of 144 million euros
Rwanda will be able to host “tens of thousands of people in the years to come”he added, touting the East African country as one of the “safest in the world, globally recognized for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants”. A budget of 120 million pounds (144 million euros) will be matched by the United Kingdom.
By sending asylum seekers more than 6,000 kilometers from London, the government wants to discourage illegal immigrants, whose numbers increased last year: 28,500 people made the perilous Channel crossing in 2021, against 8 466 in 2020, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
The project sparked outraged reactions from human rights organizations on Thursday and a “strong opposition” of ONU. “People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred overseas for processing”said in a press release Gillian Triggs, an official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Of “serious ethical questions”according to the Primate of England
On Easter Sunday, the most categorical denunciations came from the Anglican Church. In his Easter sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said that sending asylum seekers abroad poses “serious ethical questions”. “Outsourcing our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do good like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God who himself has taken responsibility for our failures”asserted the primate of the Church of England.
The Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell meanwhile judged “so depressing and sad” of “see that asylum seekers fleeing war, famine and oppression” not “will not be treated with the dignity and compassion which are the right of every human being”. “We can do better than that”he launched.
For his part, Prince Charles paid tribute to the refugees in an Easter message on Sunday referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Today, millions of people find themselves displaced, tired from their journey from troubled places, hurt by the past, fearful of the future, and in need of a kind welcome and a chance to rest”said the heir to the British crown whose mother, Queen Elizabeth II, will turn 96 next Thursday.
” Broken heart of Prince Charles “in the face of the suffering of the victims”
“In recent years, I have been heartbroken at the suffering of innocent victims of conflict, or persecution, some of whom I have met and who have told me tragic, untold stories while being forced to flee their country and seek shelter far from home”, he continued. He then paid tribute to those who helped and welcomed them.
→ ANALYSIS. UK refuses to let Ukrainian refugees enter ‘without checks or checks’
Criticized for the complexity of the steps Ukrainian refugees have to go through to join relatives in the UK, Boris Johnson’s government finally launched a stay-at-home program in which 200,000 Britons offered to take Ukrainians into their homes fleeing the Russian invasion. According to the latest official figures, London had until April 13 issued 56,500 visas for 94,700 applications.
Troubles in the administration
The agreement with Rwanda has also caused a stir at the highest level of the British administration. According to an exchange of letters published by the Home Office, the department’s top civil servant, Matthew Rycroft, had expressed doubts the day before the deal was announced, both as to “deterrent effect” expected from the device and its cost.
What Home Secretary Priti Patel retorted would be in her eyes ” careless “ to delay a measure which, “we believe, will reduce illegal immigration, save lives and ultimately break the business model of smuggling gangs”. She therefore overrode these objections by ordering the immediate implementation of the measure, via a procedure used only for the second time in 30 years at the Ministry of the Interior, according to the British press.
In the press on Saturday, both the Guardian (left) that the Daily Telegraph (right) mentioned the risk of “mutiny” within the public service. FDA union general secretary Dave Penman said officials could ask to leave the Home Office or even the administration.