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Faith Nyasuguta 

Rwanda and the United Kingdom have signed a migration deal that will see asylum seekers who arrive illegally in the UK on small boats, across the English Channel, given a one-way ticket to Kigali to wait out their applications. 

UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is in Kigali, signed the “Rwanda-UK Migration and Economic Development Partnership” with Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta. 

Under the programme that involves a UK supportive funding, the UK will invest in Rwanda’s economic development with €120 million ($157 million) to support the needs of the asylum seekers, although critics say the cost of the programme will be much higher. 

The deal comes as the UK seeks to curb an increasing number of illegal immigrants.

Opponents say the annual cost of the full scheme would be far higher.

According to BBC home editor Mark Easton, the trial scheme would mean single men arriving in Britain via Channel crossings could be removed by force. He added that with the move, ministers face significant legal hurdles and substantial costs.

Refugee organizations have criticized the plans as cruel and called upon the UK to rethink.

Labour said the plan was “unworkable, unethical and extortionate” – and one designed to “distract” from Johnson’s fine for breaking Covid-19 laws.

In addition, Liberal Democrats say the proposal would be very costly and ineffective.

British home secretary Priti Patel arrives in Rwanda on Wednesday /PA Wire/

Under the proposal, Rwanda will take responsibility for the asylum seekers, put them through an asylum process, and at the end of that process, if successful, they will have long-term accommodation there.

According to the Rwandan government, migrants will be “entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services”.

The UK Home Office believes the existing asylum law will be enough to implement the plan, but questions remain about the legality of the scheme.

A refugee advocacy group has issued a withering assessment of the scheme, calling it a “grubby cash-for-people plan” that is “cowardly” and “barbaric”.

The chief executive of Refugee Action Tim Naor Hilton accused the Government of “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.

He added that the UK should have learnt from “Australia’s horrific experiment” of sending refugees “thousands of miles away” to camps where they experienced “rampant abuse” as well as “rape, murder and suicide”.

Migrants illegally cross the English Channel from France to Britain on March 15 /AFP, Getty Images/

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said that the African nation had a “dismal human rights record”.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Mr Valdez-Symonds said: “Sending people to another country – let alone one with such a dismal human rights record – for asylum ‘processing’ is the very height of irresponsibility and shows how far removed from humanity and reality the government now is on asylum issues.

“The Government is already wrecking our asylum system at huge cost to the taxpayer while causing terrible anxiety to the people stuck in the backlogs it has created.”

“But this shockingly ill-conceived idea will go far further in inflicting suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money.”

In a speech in Kent, the prime minister will argue that action is needed to stop “vile people smugglers” turning the ocean into a “watery graveyard”.

In 2021 alone, 28,526 people were said to have crossed the English Channel in small boats, up from 8,404 in the previous year.

On Wednesday, about 600 people made the crossing and Mr Johnson will say the figure could hit 1,000 a day within weeks.

“We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system,” he will say. “Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.”

Precise details of the policy are yet to be confirmed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is met by delegates as she arrives in Rwanda /Image, PA/

At the same time, the prime minister will announce plans to hand operational control of the Channel to the navy, break the business model of people-smuggling gangs, and deter people from risking the crossing.

The measures are a fraction of the government’s long-term plan to “take back control of illegal immigration” after Brexit, Johnson will say.

It is alleged that the UK could be picking cues from the US ,Mexico and South America.

In September 2019, the US Supreme Court backed ex-president Donald Trump’s new ‘safe third country’ policy, which bars asylum seekers from eligibility in the United States if they do not first seek protection in the countries they pass through.

Under the policy, asylum seekers could be sent back to Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras to seek protection there, although only the US deal with Guatemala has so far been implemented.

In spite of the number of people crossing the Channel in boats increasing, 2021 saw fewer people using other routes – including by lorry – in part because of reinforced security at the Port of Calais.

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Faith Nyasuguta

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