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Firestorm over British plan to dump asylum-seeking refugees in Rwanda

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The United Nations Refugee Agency has joined other human rights groups in protesting plans by the United Kingdom to dump migrants and asylum-seekers who cross the Channel thousands of miles away in Rwanda as the government tries to cut the growing number of people making the perilous journey.

“From today… anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech in southeastern England.

“Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead,” Johnson said.

He called the East African nation with a sketchy human rights record “one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognized for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”

The Rwanda plan was quickly condemned by rights groups who slammed the project as inhumane, unworkable and a waste of public money.

The United Nations’ refugee agency voiced its strong opposition, with Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection saying: “People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.”

European Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the plan “raises fundamental questions about the access to asylum procedures and protection in line with the demands of international law”.

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Ghana and Rwanda had previously been mentioned as possible locations for the UK to outsource the processing of migrants, but Ghana in January denied involvement.

Instead, Kigali on Thursday announced that it had signed a multi-million-dollar deal to do the job, during a visit by British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“Rwanda welcomes this partnership with the United Kingdom to host asylum seekers and migrants, and offer them legal pathways to residence” in the East African nation, Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said in a statement.

The deal with Rwanda will be funded by the UK to the tune of up to $157 million, with migrants “integrated into communities across the country,” it said.

One critic of the plan said: “This grubby cash-for-people plan would be a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war.”

Refugee Action’s 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”.

Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the claim Rwanda was a safe country “is not grounded in reality.”

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“Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are flouted in many cases,” Mudge said.

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