Boris Johnson confirms Rwanda migrant plans, saying those arriving by illegal routes will face ‘swift’ removal

Prime minister rejects accusations that plans are ‘draconian and lacking in compassion’

Andrew Woodcock
Thursday 14 April 2022 14:36
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Keir Starmer says Rwanda asylum plan will cost taxpayers 'billions of pounds'

Boris Johnson has confirmed plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, saying that in future migrants using illegal routes to “jump the queue” will be “swiftly and humanely removed to a third country or their country of origin”.

Mr Johnson rejected accusations that the plan, which could see tens of thousands of people flown to the central African state over the next few years, was “draconian and lacking in compassion”.

But his announcement was dismissed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as a “desperate” bid by the prime minister to “distract from his own law breaking” two days after being fined for breaching Covid laws at a Downing Street party.

Declaring Labour’s opposition to the PM’s plans, Sir Keir said: “They are unworkable, they are extortionate, they are going to cost taxpayers billions of pounds. And they just reflect that the prime minister has got no grip, no answers to the questions that need answering and no shame.”

In a speech near the Channel ports in Kent where thousands of asylum seekers have come ashore in recent years, Mr Johnson insisted that those attempting to reach the UK by small boat were largely young men who were “not directly fleeing imminent peril”.

And he denounced what he said was the “rank unfairness” that those using people-smuggling routes were often able to reach the UK more easily than those seeking asylum by legal routes.

Despite the government’s recent official expressions of concern about human rights standards in Rwanda, he insisted that it was “one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants”.

A new £120m Migration and Economic Development Partnership will allow anyone who has entered the UK illegally after 1 January this year to be relocated to Rwanda.

And Mr Johnson said it would ensure that “those in genuine need will be properly protected, including with access to legal services on arrival in Rwanda, and given the opportunity to build a new life in that dynamic country supported by the funding we are providing”.

Home secretary Priti Patel travelled to Rwanda to sign off the deal, which she said would involve the UK providing support with integration, accommodation and healthcare for up to five years for those resettling in the African country.

Rwanda’s foreign minister Vincent Biruta suggested that arrivals from the UK will be given a chance “to make new lives in our country as full members of our communities” and will be provided with “a minimum for them to be able to live a dignified life”, including shelter and skills training. Those who do not want to stay in Rwanda will be “facilitated to return to their country of origin or settle in other receiving countries”, he said.

Mr Johnson said he believed that offshoring migrants to third countries was a “solution to the problems of global migration flows that is likely to be adopted by other countries”, including some in Europe.

He admitted he could not get rid of the problem of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats, but said he hoped to “demolish the business model” of smuggling gangs who exploit people desperate to reach the UK.

Speaking at Lydd airport in Kent, the prime minister said: “Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not. We can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here.

“Uncontrolled immigration creates unmanageable demands on our NHS and on our welfare state, it overstretches our local schools, our housing and public transport and creates unsustainable pressure to build on precious green spaces.

“Nor is it fair on those who are seeking to come here legally if others can bypass the system. It’s a striking fact that around seven out of 10 of those arriving in small boats last year were men under 40 paying people smugglers to queue jump and taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees.

“This is particularly perverse as those attempting crossings are not directly fleeing imminent peril, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system. They pass through manifestly safe countries including many in Europe where they could and should claim asylum.

“It’s this rank unfairness of a system that can be exploited by gangs which risks eroding public support for the whole concept of asylum.”

He said that “taking back control” of illegal crossings would allow the UK to provide a “world-leading asylum offer” to those fleeing danger through “safe and legal routes”.

“Whether you are fleeing Putin or Assad, our aim is that you should not need to turn to the people smugglers or any other kind of illegal option,” he said.

“But to deliver that we must first ensure that the only route to asylum… in the UK is a safe and legal one and that those who try to jump the queue or abuse our system will find no automatic path to settlement in our country but rather be swiftly and humanely removed to a safe and third country or their country of origin.”

He said he was giving the Royal Navy responsibility for tackling migrants crossing the English Channel, supported by £50 million of new funding for boats, aerial surveillance and military personnel.

And he said that in future, those reaching the UK will not be housed in hotels, but in Greece-style accommodation centres which are to begin opening their doors shortly.

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