Priti Patel accuses Rwanda asylum scheme doubters of xenophobia

The UK wants to send tens of thousands of asylum seekers to East Africa

British Home Secretary Priti Patel defended her plan in parliament last week to send migrants to Rwanda on a one-way ticket. Photo: UK Parliament
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The architect of Britain’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has accused critics of “sheer xenophobia” and claimed her scheme was based on rebuilding lives and investing in people.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said that opponents in parliament were guilty of an offensive stereotyping of Rwanda, which could receive tens of thousands of migrants under the scheme.

The UN, the government's opposition, the UK’s must senior church leader and rights groups have criticised the proposed policy to transfer some of the thousands of people who are expected to arrive in the UK this year in small boats and in the backs of lorries from northern Europe.

The planned policy does not offer the prospect of successfully claiming for asylum to the UK, but would mean starting a new life in the east African country 9,600 kilometres away. The scheme has not yet started, with the UK anticipating legal challenges.

Ms Patel told a British newspaper that Rwanda had a track record in taking migrants from places such as Libya, and that the policy was based on “resettlement, rebuilding lives. Investing in people”.

“I was in parliament on Tuesday, and there are undercurrents if I may say so, of just sheer xenophobia, which I think is absolutely appalling,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.

“For others, who speak in disparaging, belittling and prejudicial, ignorant ways about a country that is our partner, quite frankly is offensive, but I think also based on ignorance as well.”

The UK will pay Rwanda an initial £120 million (Dh566m), but critics say the final cost is expected to run into billions. This is based on comparison with a similar scheme run by Australia, which has sent migrants offshore to an island in Papua New Guinea for a decade.

More than 28,000 arrived in the UK on small boats last year and Ms Patel has painted the scheme as an effort to disrupt the business model of people smugglers.

The most recent US government report on human rights in Rwanda reported serious concerns, including arbitrary killings by the government, forced disappearances and political repression. In 2017, Paul Kagame was elected to serve a third seven-year presidential term with a reported 99 per cent of the vote.

Critics of the scheme have come from within the UK's ruling Conservative party, including former prime minister Theresa May, who challenged its legality and practicality.

Opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer of the Labour Party, said on Sunday that the plan was unethical and unworkable and was “going to cost a fortune”.

"I also can't help feeling … that there is a bit of distraction tactics in this to stop everybody talking about the wrongdoing of the Prime Minister and the cost-of-living crisis," he told the BBC, in reference to Boris Johnson being fined for attending a lockdown party in Downing Street.

Updated: April 24, 2022, 12:03 PM