UN strongly against Britain's deal to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda

A bird flies past migrants waiting to disembark at the Port of Dover in Britain, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel, on April 14, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - The United Nations said it stood firmly against Britain's deal announced on Thursday (April 14) to send illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers who cross the Channel thousands of miles away to Rwanda.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, voiced "strong opposition and concerns" about the agreement and urged London to refrain from transferring asylum-seekers and refugees to Rwanda for processing.

The agency said people fleeing persecution should not be traded like commodities.

"UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum-seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards," Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection, said in a statement.

"Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the refugee convention.

"People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing."

The British government is attempting to clamp down on the record numbers of people making the perilous Channel crossing from northeastern France in small inflatable boats.

The UNHCR urged both London and Kigali to "re-think" the plans and warned that instead of deterring people from making dangerous crossings, "these externalisation arrangements will only magnify risks" by causing refugees to seek alternative routes.

'Abdicate responsibility'

"UNHCR believes that wealthier nations must show solidarity in supporting Rwanda and the refugees it already hosts, and not the other way around," the agency said.

The statement said Britain had an obligation to ensure access to asylum for everyone seeking protection.

"Those who are determined to be refugees can be integrated, while those who are not and have no other legal basis to stay can be returned in safety and dignity to their country of origin," it said.

"Instead, the UK is adopting arrangements that abdicate responsibility to others and thus threaten the international refugee protection regime, which has stood the test of time, and saved millions of lives over the decades."

Remote video URL

The UNHCR said financial support abroad for particular refugee crises could not replace the obligation to receive asylum-seekers and protect refugees at home, "irrespective of race, nationality and mode of arrival".

The agency said developed countries host only a fraction of the world's refugees and were well resourced to manage claims for asylum "in a humane, fair and efficient manner".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.