UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, on Monday dismissed the British Government’s proposal to process United Kingdom-bound asylum seekers in Rwanda, describing the offshore deal between the two countries announced in April, as “all wrong”.
The development comes as senior judges in the UK ruled that the Government's first flight taking asylum seekers to the African nation, could go ahead.
A High Court judge refused a temporary injunction on Friday to halt the first flight, due to take place on Tuesday, and on Monday, according to news reports, the Court of Appeal upheld that decision.
A full legal hearing on the controversial policy is reportedly due to take place next month.
“On Rwanda, I think we’ve been so clear over the last few weeks that we believe that this is all wrong, for so many different reasons,” UNHCR chief Mr. Grandi continued.
Underscoring that the UK is a signatory to the International Convention on Refugees, the High Commissioner maintained that trying to “export” the responsibilities that this entailed, “runs contrary to any notion of responsibility and international responsibility-sharing”.
Rwanda had a strong history in welcoming and processing tens of thousands of Congolese and Burundian refugees in the past, Mr. Grandi continued, insisting that the country did not have the capacity or infrastructure to carry out the refugee status assessments that were required on a case-by-case basis.
“If it were the other way around, maybe we could discuss, but here, we are talking about a country (the UK) with structures that is exporting its responsibility to another country, Rwanda.”
Speaking in Geneva, the High Commissioner also dismissed the UK Government’s assertion that the policy’s aim was “to save people” from dangerous boat journeys across the English Channel, from the coast of mainland Europe.
“I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great,” Mr. Grandi said, “but is that the right way to do it? Is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so.”
Urging greater communication between the UK and French governments on the issue, since the majority of refugees likely to be impacted came via France, the High Commissioner noted that France also had the structures in place, to help asylum-seekers.
When the policy was announced, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the $160 million scheme would “save countless lives” of migrants who often put themselves in the hands of illegal people traffickers.
Mr. Grandi conceded that although the situation was complicated, many legal avenues nonetheless exist for refugees and asylum-seekers to join family members already in the UK and EU countries.
“All of this needs to be looked at bilaterally between the UK and respective EU countries; we have made ourselves available many times to provide advice; that’s the way to do it,” Mr. Grandi said.