This plane was supposed to take almost 50 people to Rwanda in June to have the asylum claim processed there | Photo: Reuters
This plane was supposed to take almost 50 people to Rwanda in June to have the asylum claim processed there | Photo: Reuters

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee shared its findings with the UK parliament on Monday, saying that there was no evidence to show that the controversial new policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda would stop crossings from France across the English Channel.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee discussed its findings on Britain's controversial policy of deporting asylum seeker to Rwanda. The committee, which is a permanent cross-party entity entrusted with keeping checks on the work of the Home Office and its associated bodies, said that it needed "much more clarity" about the specifics of the plan, including further details on costs.

It also stressed that there was "no magical solution" to address the phenomenon of irregular migration. The government had announced in April that its "world-leading" plan would stop dangerous crossings.

"There is no clear evidence that the policy will deter migrant crossings," the cross-party committee said in its 59-page report, adding that actually the rate of irregular Channel crossings from France on unsuitable small vessels had increased since the introduction of the policy was first announced in April this year.

The committee added that the reason for this could be rumors spread by people-smugglers, who warn migrants about the change in the law. 

"One explanation … 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.


Labour Party MP Diana Johnson, who chaired the committee, meanwhile said that the introduction of the law "appears to have gone unnoticed" by migrants -- stressing that the desired deterrent effect promoted by supporters of the plan had not taken root at all.

Read more: Rwanda deal overshadows Commonwealth meeting in Kigali

Blaming Brexit

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the UK Refugee Council, welcomed the findings of the report, urging officials including the next prime minister to "immediately rethink and focus on the workable alternatives that are -- contrary to rhetoric -- readily available".

MPs meanwhile put pressure on ministers to explore other options to stop the rise in migrant numbers to the country, including looking at closer cooperation with the UK's European neighbors. It recommended specifically that "close cooperation with international partners, particularly those in France" might help more in deterring Channel crossings, especially in areas focused on intelligence-sharing and combatting smuggling networks.

The issue of UK immigration laws was at the heart of the Brexit debate for years | Photo: picture-alliance/empics/T. Melville
The issue of UK immigration laws was at the heart of the Brexit debate for years | Photo: picture-alliance/empics/T. Melville


However, this flies in the face of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's policies, who had promised that Britain would gain back control of its borders after leaving the European Union in 2020. 

A return to closer cooperation with EU countries would effectively amount to a reversal of that policy direction, tainting the public legacy of the embattled prime minister, who is due to leave office in September.

Furthermore, all five remaining candidates in the Conservative leadership race to replace the prime minister have pledged to keep the controversial policy of sending migrants to Rwanda.

"The UK needs an asylum system that deals with reality. It must be fair, efficient and acknowledge the UK's international obligations," Dame Diana Johnson stressed. The report also highlighted the fact that any attempts to discuss migrant return agreements with EU government had "entirely failed" since the UK left the bloc. 

Since Brexit, Britain is no longer a signatory to the EU's Dublin Regulation, according to which migrants and refugees are supposed to be sent back to the EU nation where they first registered.

Home Office playing catch-up

More than 28,500 people arrived in the UK in 2021 -- the year when all Brexit-related transition periods expired. More than 13,000 migrants have arrived so far this year, with authorities expecting a total of 60,000, according to a report on the BBC.

Most people who arrive in the UK using irregular means go on to lodge asylum applications which take long to process, resulting in costs which the British government finds unsustainable. According to the Home Office, asylum procedures cost upwards of $1.8 billion annually, according to the Home Office.

A growing number of migrants is trying to cross the English Channel - as seen here in Dover, England on May 5, 2022 | Photo: Stuart Brock / Anadolu Agency
A growing number of migrants is trying to cross the English Channel - as seen here in Dover, England on May 5, 2022 | Photo: Stuart Brock / Anadolu Agency


The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said that the extreme burden on taxpayers was partly due to backlogs; the current asylum caseload in the UK stands at more than 125,000 cases, which it was because of "antiquated IT systems, high staff turnover and too few staff."

The Home Office said in response that it was in the midst of recruiting more staff and improving technology tools, in addition to offering additional remote interview opportunities to migrants to reduce waiting times, among other things.

In 2021, the UK managed to process less than 50,000 asylum applications; however, since roughly 2014, the finished caseload each year stood roughly at the same level.

Read more: Two categories of refugees under Britain's new law

British government spoke out against Rwanda plan

On June 14, 47 people were due to be flown on the first flight carrying asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Following a number of legal challenges, and a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the flight had to be cancelled.

The new policy has been in limbo since, with Home Secretary Priti Patel, the architect of the plan, defending it and saying that these flights to the Rwandan capital Kigali will eventually take off. However, with recent reports suggesting that even children might be deported to Rwanda for asylum processing, the British government appears to have a difficult case to prove and win at the ECHR.

Protestors have gathered repeated in London and elsewhere in the UK to rally against Britain's plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda | Photo: Niklas Hallen/AFP
Protestors have gathered repeated in London and elsewhere in the UK to rally against Britain's plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda | Photo: Niklas Hallen/AFP


Meanwhile, there have been fresh revelations showing that British government officials told the Home Secretary not to go ahead with the plan.

Court documents in a case brought on by five migrants originally due to be sent to Rwanda on the first flight show that during the internal consideration of the policy, the African country was "initially excluded from the shortlist of potential partner countries for [Patel's] proposed immigration policy on human rights grounds."

The documents say that Rwanda "has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries" in addition to a scathing track record of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, and enforced disappearances, which were all known by British authorities.

Furthermore, the government also flagged the financial viability of the plan: An internal government memo dated April 12 said the deal was effectively "unenforceable, consisting in part of upfront payments, meaning fraud risk is very high."

The full judicial review of the Rwanda policy is due to be held on September 5 -- presumably just before Prime Minister Johnson's departure from office.

Read more: Fact check: Just how safe is Rwanda for migrants?

With AFP, BBC, Independent

 

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