UN’s Refugee Agency says the Home Secretary is pandering to populist tendencies

The accusations made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Agency, that the Home Secretary is pandering to populist tendencies and that her Rwanda scheme is unworkable, came under attack in parliament Monday from senior Tory MPs accusing the agency of being hypocrites.

The UNHCR had been party to a number of legal challenges to the Home Secretary’s plans to forcibly deport , on one-way flights, individuals who have crossed the channel in small boats to seek asylum in the UK, . A Home Office spokesperson has said that the UNHCR’s position is hypocritical, given that they are themselves locating asylum seekers to the same country.

A Campaigner at Royal Courts of Justice during hearing on legality of deportation plans

Conservative MP, Danny Kruger, said:

‘If the UNHCR itself can approve removals to Rwanda this demonstrates what the Government has always said that it is a safe third country. I hope that the UNHCR and its lawyers will now cease efforts to frustrate government policy that reflects its own position.’

In response, the UNHCR has argued that there is a critical difference between the forced UK government’s plan and the UNHCR’s voluntary programme which has collaborated with the African Union and the Rwandan government to provide sanctuary to more than 1600 refugees on a temporary basis within a refugee camp in Gashora – under the ‘Gashora Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM)’ established in 2019.

The Government’s plans are to forcibly remove asylum seekers, the UNHCR’s are voluntary resettlement plans

Since its inception, refugees and asylum seekers have been evacuated from Libya in 11 evacuation flights to the ETM. These are distinct from the ‘deportation flights’ planned by the UK government. The ETM scheme accommodates refugees and asylum seekers from 8 countries, including Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

As at the end of the Autumn of 2022, 536 refugees and asylum seekers remained accommodated in the ETM with 712 refugees having been resettled through the scheme to third countries including Norway, Sweden, Canada, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Finland. The mandated aim of the scheme, which had its first trial run in 2017 in Niger, has always been to ‘temporarily’ host refugees and asylum seekers who have undertaken ‘voluntary evacuation’. Under the ETM agreement, refugees remained under the care of the UNHCR, which adjudicated their claims pending resettlement in the West.

A spokesperson for the UNHCR said that the Rwandan asylum system of the UK government could not be relied upon to fairly adjudicate claims and added that under the scheme asylum seekers risked being sent back to their own countries.

Archbishop of Canterbury says the government is breaking the system of international cooperation

Meanwhile, the debate in the House of Lords on the issue is expected to ensure that the government’s ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ faces substantial disruption, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, letting it be known that he intends to introduce a series of amendments. In recent weeks the Archbishop has argued that the bill in its current form, runs the risk of:

break[ing] the system of international cooperation that promised to help those fleeing war, famine and conflict’

The UNHCR is one of a number of human rights parties to a suit in the Court of Appeal against the Rwanda scheme, with a ruling expected in the next few weeks. The result of the hearing will be the likely trigger for deportation flights to commence, especially as net migration figures due out from the Office of National Statistics in the next week are expected to reveal that they have doubled from last year’s levels.  According to the Financial Times, this is ‘a record that is largely the result of government policy choices and has much less to do with clandestine boat arrivals from France’.


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