Boris Johnson ‘seems committed to the ‘whatever it takes’ logic’ against immigration

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The deal signed by the UK on Thursday to send its asylum seekers to Rwanda has been denounced by several NGOs and the UN, who have accused it of being cruel and illegal. France 24 takes stock with François Gemenne, researcher specializing in migratory flows at Sciences Po.

France 24: What do we know about the UK-Rwanda deal on the relocation of asylum seekers? ?

Francois Gemenne: According to the agreement reached, all people illegally crossing the border from the UK, around 28,000 a year, are sent to Rwanda where their asylum application will be processed from A to Z by Rwandan officials. In return, the UK pays Rwanda a sizeable lump sum of £120 million (about €144 million) a year.

This is an absolute first: the example of Australia, which is shifting its asylum process to neighboring island states such as Nauru, is often taken, but the UK agreement goes much further.

In Nauru, Australian officials deal with asylum seekers and refugees then have the right to travel to Australia. As part of the UK-Rwanda deal, asylum will be fully outsourced: if granted, refugees will still not be able to go to the UK and will have to settle in Rwanda.

However, the application modalities remain rather vague: we do not know how asylum seekers are sent to Rwanda or how they are treated there after their arrival. Will they be placed in detention centers, will there be an appeals process, will they be able to benefit from an interpreter? Rwanda is not a paragon of respect for human rights.

Many NGOs have denounced the illegal and cruel nature of the agreement. Does it violate international law? ?

The deal violates the right to asylum and the Geneva Convention, to which the UK is a signatory. It’s about people who “irregularly cross the border”. However, the Geneva Convention is very clear that people crossing a border to seek asylum are never illegal, even if they use smugglers.

When fleeing danger to life in your own country, it is not always possible to apply for a visa: you have to be able to travel quickly to another country in order to apply for asylum there, no matter what the means. Imagine: that would mean that Ukrainians who are currently fleeing the war could end up in Rwanda.

In fact, the UK therefore decides to stop granting asylum, as only legally arrived people, a tiny minority, can apply for asylum and live there as refugees. For the United Kingdom, this amounts to a de facto withdrawal from the Geneva Convention.

Can we expect this deal to be effective and reduce the number of asylum applications? ? Is that a realistic measure? ?

The agreement will be difficult to apply; its cost to the British will be considerable. In addition to the £120m-a-year package, the UK must transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda. If we know that an eviction in France costs an average of 14,000 euros per person, we can imagine what sums that can represent.

However, the agreement will have a deterrent effect on asylum seekers, but this depends on the practical implementation. Are the boats checked systematically or, for example, only a few?

Boris Johnson nonetheless seems committed to a ‘whatever it takes’ logic on the issue, which he sees as having a strong political interest. As he struggles to keep his job in the wake of the lockdown parties scandal, the deal allows him to show voters the government will stop at nothing to protect Britain’s borders, which is one of Brexit’s most shocking arguments was.

The fact that the £120million is a package could also prompt the UK government to try to “make it profitable” by deporting as many asylum seekers as possible.

If it works, it is to be feared that other countries will be tempted to step into the breach. Denmark has been discussing a similar project with Rwanda in recent months, and the UK’s success could prompt them to restart negotiations. Hungary might also be interested.

And should the agreement actually come into force, there will be consequences for France, because asylum seekers who refuse to cross the English Channel will submit their application there.

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