UK pushes ahead with Rwandan migrant scheme as small boats keep arriving

By Michael Holden and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) – Housed in a detention center in the south of England, Aladeen says he risked his life to travel thousands of miles from his native Syria to escape being forced to fight in President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Now the 21-year-old is fighting to stay in Britain and avoid being sent around the world again, this time to Rwanda where the British government wants to send migrants who show up illegally on its shores.

“It’s the end of the world for me, I can’t imagine it,” he told Reuters by phone through an interpreter and declining to give his full name while his asylum claim was being considered. .

Aladeen, one of around 130 migrants originally ticketed to Rwanda and now left in legal limbo, is caught up in the UK government’s struggle to control its borders and manage post-Brexit migration claims voters.

He is one of more than 20,000 migrants to have made the precarious 20-mile journey from France to Britain this year on small boats across the English Channel, traversing one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world .

The status of migrants like Aladeen will face a legal challenge in the High Court in London in early September when a coalition of human rights groups and a trade union argue that the Rwandan policy is unworkable and contrary to ethics.

Governments around the world are wondering how to deal with an influx of refugees fleeing war-torn countries or persecution in their home countries. Britain is the latest country to attempt to outsource the settlement of asylum seekers.

Australia pioneered the concept and European governments have in recent years paid countries like Libya to arrest migrants on their behalf. Denmark has signed a similar agreement on deportations with Rwanda, but has not yet sent any migrants there.

Britain has described its policy as humane, saying it will break the smuggler business model and end the emergency that has seen at least 166 people die or go missing, 27 of whom drowned in November’s worst crash .

But it has drawn widespread criticism – from lawmakers across the political spectrum, the United Nations and even heir to the throne Prince Charles – while the European Court of Human Rights has issued injunctions to force the cancellation of the first deportation flight hours before it was due to depart in June.

Politics is also overshadowed by the scale of the challenge.

So far, Rwanda has also only set up one hostel to accept British arrivals, with a capacity of around 100 people, which represents 0.35% of all migrants arriving in Great Britain. Britain last year.

A UK official said the government was in talks to acquire three or four more hostels in Kigali, but even these would only provide accommodation for around 1.6% of arrivals last year.

“I’m not going to claim that Rwandan politics is the only silver bullet, but I think it can make a big difference,” outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a visit to Rwanda for a meeting of leaders of the Commonwealth in June.

INHUMAN, COSTLESS AND NOT WORKING

Meanwhile, asylum seekers continue to arrive, with 696 on August 1 alone. A report by parliament’s cross-party home affairs committee last month said there was no evidence that Rwandan policy was deterring asylum seekers.

The numbers have been rising for several years.

In 2021, 28,526 people were detected arriving on small boats – the highest number coming from Iran followed by Iraq, Eritrea and Syria. That figure was up from 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019 and 299 in 2018, contributing to the £1.5 billion ($1.83 billion) annual cost of running the UK asylum system.

Johnson said earlier this year officials believed a record 60,000 asylum seekers could arrive in Britain this year.

The two candidates to replace him have also pledged to continue the Rwandan policy, and the frontrunner, Foreign Minister Liz Truss, has pledged to extend it to other countries.

A UK government spokesperson described the situation as ‘unacceptable’ and insisted the strategy was needed to prevent people ‘from taking dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys’.

Britain says 90% of asylum seekers making the journey are men, many of whom are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees.

LEAVE AS A FRIEND

At Hope Hostel in Kigali, arrivals are greeted with a sign in English that reads “Come as a guest, leave as a friend”.

“As you can see, people will find it very comfortable here,” manager Elisee Kalyango said of his hostel, perched on a hill on the outskirts of town, with its signs printed in English, Arabic, Farsi and Albanian.

Around 20 people are employed to keep the rooms clean, the grass trimmed and the facilities in working order even when there are no guests.

The plan is for the deportees to spend nine months there, with a monthly stipend of around £90, while having their asylum claims considered before being transferred to permanent accommodation in Rwanda.

The Rwandan program aims to deter people like Aladeen from making dangerous journeys to Britain and to end human trafficking.

With five brothers and two sisters, Aladeen says he was unfamiliar with Rwandan politics before he left. He says he was a farmer who had to flee when he was drafted into the Syrian army.

He says he was kidnapped and tortured for four months in Libya until his family paid a ransom. He then headed for Tripoli where he had a cousin, but fearing being kidnapped again, left for Britain where he had relatives, via a five-day boat trip to Italy and a train to France.

When asked why he had not sought asylum in France, a question often asked by supporters of Rwandan politics, he said he understood he would not be treated fairly there.

“I don’t have family there to support me, all family I know, all I know – all human rights… that’s why I came to the UK,” he said. he declared.

In the port of Calais, in northern France, he says his family paid a smuggler – he didn’t know how much – and he made a seven-hour trip with 18 other people on a small boat in mid- may.

Many others withdrew, too scared to board the boat.

Upon arrival in Britain, he was taken to a detention center before being transferred to a detention center. He initially received a ticket to Rwanda but said his lawyers were able to cancel it.

“I feel like I’m being treated like a criminal. I’m not a criminal, all I do is settle down and start a new life,” he said.

When asked what he would do if sent to Rwanda, he replied, “I’m not sure – my life is over.”

(Editing by Kate Holton and Nick Macfie)

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