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Britain to resettle asylum seekers in Rwanda

Britain could send tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda. Source: Reuters.

LONDON: Britain could send tens of thousands of asylum seekers to be resettled in Rwanda under a new partnership, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he outlined measures designed to tackle the problem of cross-Channel migration.

“We must ensure that the only route to asylum in the UK is a safe and legal one,” Johnson said in a speech on Thursday in Kent, southeast England, where thousands of migrants in sally boats landed on Channel beaches last year.

“Those who try to jump the queue or abuse our systems will find no automatic path to set them up in our country, but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their country of origin,” the prime minister said.

Anyone who had arrived in Britain illegally since January 1 could now be relocated to Rwanda, in central Africa, which would disrupt the business model of people-smuggling gangs, he said.

“The deal we have done is unmapped and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead,” he said.

The plan drew swift and strong criticism from opposition parties, with interior minister Priti Patel’s Labour party counterpart, Yvette Cooper, saying it was “extortionate as well as unworkable and unethical”.

Johnson said he knew the plan would be criticised and would face legal challenges, but he promised to do whatever it took to deliver it. The government said Britain would contribute an initial 120 million pounds to the partnership.

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Patel was in Kigali, Rwanda, on Thursday to sign the partnership agreement and presented it at a joint press conference with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta.

“When we were discussing this partnership, we assessed our capacity to receive migrants and we know that we have the capacity in a place to receive migrants but we are also investing in infrastructure going forward,” Biruta said.

Opposition lawmakers said Johnson was trying to distract from the renewed calls on him to resign after being fined by police for attending a gathering for his birthday in June 2020 in violation of COVID-19 rules.

Last year, more than 28,000 migrants and refugees made the crossing from mainland Europe to Britain. The arrival of migrants on rickety boats has been a source of tension between France and Britain, especially after 27 migrants drowned when their dinghy deflated in November.

“Before Christmas, 27 people drowned, and in the weeks ahead there may be many more losing their lives at sea, and whose bodies may never be recovered,” Johnson said. “Around 600 came across the Channel yesterday. In just a few weeks this could again reach a thousand a day.”

Labour party’s Cooper cited the cost of Australia’s policy of holding asylum-seekers in offshore camps, saying Australia Refugee Council figures showed it had cost the equivalent of 1.7 million pounds per person.

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