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The agreement concluded Thursday by the United Kingdom to send its asylum seekers to Rwanda is decried by several NGOs and the UN, which accuse it of its cruelty and illegality. France 24 takes stock with François Gemenne, researcher specializing in migration flows at Sciences Po.
France 24: What do we know about the agreement concluded between the United Kingdom and Rwanda on the relocation of asylum seekers ?
Francois Gemenne: According to the agreement reached, all people crossing the border illegally from the United Kingdom, approximately 28,000 a year, will be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum application will be processed from A to Z by Rwandan officers. In exchange, the United Kingdom will pay Rwanda a substantial lump sum of 120 million pounds (about 144 million euros) per year.
This is a total novelty: the example of Australia is often taken, which relocates its asylum procedure to neighboring island states, such as Nauru, but the agreement concluded by the United Kingdom goes much further far.
In Nauru, Australian officers deal with asylum seekers and refugees then have the right to travel to Australia. As part of the UK-Rwanda deal, asylum is entirely outsourced: if granted, refugees will still not be able to go to the UK and will have to settle in Rwanda.
However, the terms of application remain rather vague: we do not know how asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda or how they will be treated there after their arrival. Will they be placed in detention centres, will there be an appeal procedure, will they be able to benefit from an interpreter? Rwanda is not a model in terms of respect for human rights.
Many NGOs have denounced the illegal and cruel nature of the agreement. Does it contravene international law ?
The agreement contravenes the right to asylum and the Geneva Convention, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. It concerns people who “cross the border irregularly”. However, the Geneva Convention stipulates very clearly that people who cross a border to seek asylum are never illegal, even if they use smugglers.
When fleeing life-threatening danger in one’s own country, it is not always possible to apply for a visa: one must be able to travel quickly to another country to apply for asylum there, regardless of the means. Imagine: that would mean that Ukrainians currently fleeing the war could end up in Rwanda.
De facto, the United Kingdom therefore decides to no longer grant asylum since only people who have entered the country legally, a tiny minority, will be able to apply for it and live there as refugees. For the United Kingdom, this amounts to leaving the Geneva Convention de facto.
Can we expect this agreement to be effective and reduce the number of asylum applications ? Is this a realistic measure ?
The agreement will be difficult to apply; its cost will be considerable for the British. In addition to the fixed price of 120 million pounds per year, the United Kingdom will have to move asylum seekers to Rwanda. When we know that a forced eviction costs on average 14,000 euros per person in France, we can imagine the sums that this can represent.
However, the agreement will have a deterrent effect on asylum seekers, although this depends on how it is implemented in practice. Will the boats be systematically checked or just a few of them, for example?
Boris Johnson nevertheless seems committed to a logic of “whatever it takes” on the subject, which has a strong political interest for him. As he struggles to keep his job after the lockdown parties scandal, the deal allows him to show voters that the government will stop at nothing to protect Britain’s borders, which was one of the shocking arguments. of Brexit.
The fact that the 120 million pounds is a package may also push the British government to try to “make it profitable” by deporting as many asylum seekers as possible.
If this 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 push it to resume negotiations. Hungary could also be interested.
And if the agreement actually comes into effect, we can expect consequences for France, since asylum seekers who refuse to cross the Channel will file their application there.