Critique and confusion continue to increase over the controversial UK deal with Rwanda on outsourcing asylum protection. With numbers, timeline and safety situation unclear the Home Office has moved to detain asylum seekers awaiting possible deportation. The deterrence effect of UK policies remains doubtful as crossings of the channel continue. After ten years of ‘hostile environment’ Home Office’ frontline staff warns of culture of fear and risk of illegality.

The deeply controversial plan from the UK government to outsource asylum protection to Rwanda continues to generate critique and confusion. In an opinion piece published by Open Democracy on 20 May independent human rights consultant, Aidan McQuade writes on the £120 million deal with an estimated price of £2 million per person transferred: “Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Court defines a “crime against humanity” as a state policy to undertake an “attack directed against any civilian population” that includes deportation, forcible transfer of populations, persecution of identifiable groups, or “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury”, concluding: ”It is difficult to imagine a publicly stated UK policy of recent years more designed to conform to the definition of a crime against humanity”.

“Tens of thousands” becomes hundreds as Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab walks back on ‘estimates’ from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Rwanda deportations. On 22 May, Raab told media that 50 people has received notification that the government intends to deport them to the central African state. The minister had little clarification to offer on the timing of such deportations, confirming no one will be removed before 6 June and stating simply: “as soon as possible” mentioning how the Home Office need to “work through operational considerations”. He added: “I think I’d be careful about managing expectations. It is not going to deal with the whole problem”. Home Office modelling, revealed by media suggests that only around 300 people would be deported under the policy annually. At the same time Home Secretary, Priti Patel has been challenged over claims made during a House of Commons debate in April, when she stated: “Over 130,000 refugees have been resettled in Rwanda and, it is not just a safe country, but one where both the [United Nations refugee agency] UNHCR and the EU have resettled individuals”. A freedom of information request to the Home Office resulted in little clarification but as outlined by head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, Sile Reynolds: “The Emergency Transit Mechanism is an urgent humanitarian evacuation programme, designed to move vulnerable and traumatised refugees from a situation of immediate danger, to a temporary transit location in Rwanda before they are ultimately resettled in Europe or North America”. Further, Reynolds noted: “It could not be more different to the UK’s Rwanda scheme which moves refugees from a place of safety to one of danger and insecurity. This is nothing more than a cynical and cack-handed attempt to distract critics from the brutality and unfairness of the Rwanda scheme”.

Meanwhile, several people arriving irregularly across the channel have reportedly been placed in detention by the Home Office. According to the Guardian: “Those detained so far for offshoring (to Rwanda) include a group of people from Sudan who crossed the Channel in a kayak on 9 May – not using the people smugglers whose business model the home secretary has said she wants to smash – some Albanian asylum seekers and at least one man from Afghanistan who arrived approximately a week ago in a small boat”. The chief executive of ECRE member the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, stated: “The government is now so determined to treat any person fleeing war or oppression, including those escaping Ukraine and Afghanistan, as a commodity to be shipped to Rwanda that it is choosing to detain them immediately. This is appallingly cruel and will cause great human suffering. We urge the government to immediately rethink its plans and focus on the workable alternatives clearly at their disposal. Safe routes including allowing people to apply for humanitarian visas is one important option”.

However, as Guardian points out: “there is little indication that the policy is having a deterrent effect in northern France, with about 9,000 asylum seekers crossing the Channel so far this year, including hundreds since the policy was announced in mid-April”. Reportedly, on 19 May alone 106 people made the crossing with 20-30 following the next day including babies and small children. Commenting on recent crossings the grass-roots organisation Channel Rescue stated: “Terrorising people seeking asylum by militarising borders, Channel pushbacks & threatening to deport them to Rwanda are not effective deterrents. It’s just forcing them to put their lives at risk”.

Ten years to the day after Theresa May, Home Secretary at the time, introduced the hostile environment declaring: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”, frontline Home Office staff warns of a “culture of fear”. Staff are reportedly left in dangerous situations and may be asked to perform illegal acts. “The culture of fear has not altered in any way. As a professional body, this union has repeated and extensive contact from officers who are unable to raise their concerns,” Lucy Moreton, a professional officer at the Immigration Services union that represents Border Force guards, stated.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.