Cross-border migrants in UK condemn Rwanda’s deportation plan

If the British government has its way, the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on England’s south-east coast each year after crossing the Channel in small boats will be quickly deported to Rwanda.

Though the controversial plan is on hold due to legal challenges, some of those who completed the perilous journey said they are spooked by the prospect.

“It’s really terrifying,” Abdulhakim, a 24-year-old Ethiopian who arrived in April, told AFP outside a London hotel where he has since stayed.

“We talked about it in April,” he added, noting that all migrants in the discussions were “terrified” by the deadlock that would be “devastating” for them.

“Rwanda is not a safe place – there was genocide there!”

The British government insists that such views on the east African country, which witnessed a 1994 genocide of the Tutsi population by extremist Rwandan Hutu groups, are outdated.

ALSO READ: Rwanda says international community is not helping Congo crisis

Ministers claim it is now a safe destination but hope the plan will provide a significant deterrent to those considering reaching the UK in small boats.

A deal with Kigali costing more than £120million ($145million), agreed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April, would see anyone arriving illegally on British soil sent there.

They will be flown to East Africa before their asylum claims have even started to be examined, and if they are finally granted sanctuary, they will remain in Rwanda rather than return to the UK.

The policy applies regardless of where applicants come from.

– ‘Nervous’ –

On Monday, the High Court in London ruled it was lawful after a legal challenge from migrants and activists, prompting the government to say it hopes to start flights as soon as possible.

Although further legal action by opponents appears likely at first, the mood among migrants already in the UK is fearful.

Mohammed, a 24-year-old Sudanese who arrived by boat two years ago, said he “was unable to sleep” as the court battle unfolded.

“This plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is very scary,” said Iranian Kurd Amir, another asylum seeker living in the London hotel – which lies in the shadow of the gleaming spiers of the financial district – while applying for asylum.

“It makes people in the hotel nervous. What can you do there?”

He arrived in the UK four years ago stowed in a lorry and is confident the directive will not affect him. The 24-year-old is expecting a decision on his status soon.

But after being surrounded by migrants fleeing war or persecution for so many years, he is skeptical that the threat of being sent to Rwanda will stem the flow of illegal arrivals.

ALSO READ: Frustration and hope: Rwanda’s African migrants in limbo

“It won’t stop her. They will come anyway,” Amir said.

In 2022, a record number of more than 45,000 people crossed the English Channel – one of the world’s busiest waterways – on small inflatable boats ill-suited to the harsh conditions that often prevail there.

At least four died earlier this month when their boat capsized, while dozens drowned in another tragedy a year earlier.

Others, desperate to reach the UK, are also stowing away in trucks that have headed there from mainland Europe.

Opponents of the Rwanda plan argue that it fails to address the biggest problem: the lack of safe legal routes for asylum seekers and refugees to get to Britain.

At a parliamentary committee hearing earlier this week, Britain’s right-wing Home Secretary Suella Braverman insisted the country was “very generous” in its refugee policy.

“We need to limit our capacity in the UK to accommodate people fleeing difficult circumstances,” she said.

But Braverman struggled to detail how those fleeing war and persecution could legally enter Britain without family members already present.

A senior official flanking their routes offered by UN agencies was an option.

ALSO READ: British Judges Rule Rwanda’s Deportation Plan Legal

But the migrants in the hotel had doubts.

“It’s impossible to come legally,” said Abdulhakim.

“Maybe on a student visa, but I couldn’t afford to study,” he added, noting that he doesn’t have a passport either.

Amir said it was impossible to apply for asylum in his home country of Iran.

“I’m Kurdish, do you think Iran will give me a passport?” he said.

Although Rwanda received little support, Mary, a 23-year-old Iranian who left the country with her husband two years ago, said she still prefers it to her country.

“If I went back to Iran, I would be arrested,” she said.

“I don’t know anything about Rwanda. All I know is that it’s in Africa.”

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