UK warned it faces Australian-like reputation damage over asylum seeker plan

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UK warned it faces Australian-like reputation damage over asylum seeker plan

By Latika Bourke

London: The UK government has been warned there is no evidence plans to send unwanted asylum seekers to Rwanda will work and that a similar policy in Australia has shown it will harm its international reputation.

The Home Affairs select committee, comprising six Conservative MPs and five opposition MPs, published its first report into channel crossing, migration and asylum.

A guard at the Hope Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda which is currently empty as it awaits the first flight of the UK’s unwanted asylum seekers.

A guard at the Hope Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda which is currently empty as it awaits the first flight of the UK’s unwanted asylum seekers.Credit:Latika Bourke

The UK has signed an agreement with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame for asylum seekers who journey by boat across the Channel from France to England, to be sent to the capital of Kigali for processing and resettlement.

The government’s first attempted flight was aborted when the European Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the European Union, issued an injunction to stop the flight.

The policy mimics some aspects of Australia’s hardline stance on boat arrivals, but the committee report warned that Channel crossings had increased since the policy was announced.

“There is no clear evidence that the policy will deter migrant crossings – numbers have significantly increased since it was announced in April, but one explanation for this may be attributed to scaremongering from people traffickers that because of new regulations coming in across the Channel it will be much harder to access the UK in future so they had better get on with it,” the report said.

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Further, it said that the policy risked the UK earning Australia’s reputation of washing its hands of its obligations to asylum seekers as well as using an offshore model that was known to have led to severe mental and physical health conditions for those subjected to immigration detention.

It referred to evidence provided to the House of Commons which showed that of the 2116 documented assaults, sexual abuse cases or self-harm attempts in the Australian offshore centres between May 2013 and October 2015, half of those incidents involved children.

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“The agreement with Rwanda implies that the UK will have no responsibility for people relocated once they have arrived in their new accommodation, who will have no right of return to the UK,” the MPs said in the report.

Hope Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda will host unwanted asylum seekers from the UK.

Hope Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda will host unwanted asylum seekers from the UK.Credit:Latika Bourke

“Given the lessons of the Australian experience, this carries a significant reputational risk for the UK.”

It cited David Davis, a former Cabinet minister and current Tory MP who said Australia’s offshore solution was “eye-wateringly expensive” costing around £1.38 million ($2.41 million) for the 30,000 asylum seekers who had travelled by boat.

The number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel has rocketed in recent years, from around 2000 people per year to 28,500 last year. An estimated 60,000 are expected to arrive in 2022.

The Home Office takes an average of 550 days to process a visa for a child asylum seeker and 449 days for an adult, which the committee said only encouraged people in desperate situations to take matters into their own hands and attempt a crossing.

“Given the lessons of the Australian experience, this carries a significant reputational risk for the UK.”

The UK Home Affairs select committee report into channel crossing, migration and asylum..

The number of people seeking asylum in Britain has fallen since the start of the century and stood at 48,450 last year, but the total asylum caseload stands at 125,000 - the highest in more than a decade.

The number of visa extensions issued to those who travelled by boat comprised around three per cent of the nearly 1 million visas issued in the last 12 months.

The MPs said there was “no magical solution” to stopping the boats but that speeding up the processing of asylum claims would help.

It called for an “intelligence-led” approach that focussed on targeting and disrupting the people-smuggling gangs operating in France.

It said that the UK should set up asylum-processing facilities in France.

The committee said there was no evidence on why people who had already made it to Europe would risk their lives in boats and dinghies to reach the UK and urged research so that counter policies could be developed.

The committee urged the UK government to open negotiations with the French to see what it would take to get the French authorities to tow back to their own waters boats which had left its shores.

“We believe that discussions with the French as to what it would take for them to change this policy are essential,” the MPs said.

“We acknowledge that this is a contentious issue between the UK and French governments and would need firm assurances that any migrants whose applications were rejected by UK authorities must be detained and removed so that they would not simply return to the French coast.”

The MPs said this could be run as a pilot. The French have refused to countenance bringing back boats and because there are no international waters between France and England in the Channel, the British cannot conduct an Australian-style turn back, needing French cooperation for any boat to be returned to French shores.

The MPs also said that while they agreed with Home Secretary Priti Patel that the asylum system was broken it was not migrants crossing the Channel who had broken it.

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