Explainer: Why are asylum seekers in UK being sent to Rwanda?

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The first plane carrying asylum-seekers of various nationalities is set to take off from Britain headed to Rwanda on Tuesday, under British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new plan.

Johnson’s government had reached an agreement with Rwanda on April 14 under which it can deport people who enter the UK illegally to the African country in exchange for millions of pounds in development aid.


Britain has promised Rwanda an initial £120 million ($144 million) as part of an “economic transformation and integration fund,” but the UK will be paying operational costs as well.

Johnson defended the plan, which faced legal challenges and created an outcry amongst international refugee aid organizations, by saying it will act as a deterrent for people who pay smugglers to make the journey across the English Channel in small boats.

What is the Rwanda asylum plan?

According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries, Rwanda commits to receive asylum seekers from the UK. It is a five year plan that is subject to renewal by both parties.

The plan dictates that anyone entering the UK illegally – as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 – may now be relocated to Rwanda.

The Rwandan government will consider each asylum seeker’s claim through the Rwanda domestic asylum system and arrange for the settlement in the country for those recognised as refugees or otherwise requiring protection.

The British government said the new plan will “promote a new fair and humane asylum system, deter illegal migration and create safe and legal routes for those fleeing persecution.” It added that it is a way to counter the “mass movement of irregular migrants organized by people smugglers [which] is overwhelming the existing international asylum system.”

How does Britain’s PM defend the plan?

Johnson has said at the time of the plan’s announcement: “It’s a striking fact that around seven out of ten 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 our asylum system,” he added.

“These vile people smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard, with men, women and children, drowning in unseaworthy boats, and suffocating in refrigerated lorries.”

What if a person is denied asylum in Rwanda?

According to the MoU, relocated individuals who are neither recognized as refugees or determined to not have a protection need or other basis upon which to remain in Rwanda, the Rwandan government “will only remove such a person to a country in which they have a right to reside.”

“If there is no prospect of such removal occurring for any reason, Rwanda will regularize that person’s immigration status in Rwanda.”

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