The UK wants to send refugees to Rwanda. Is that legal? (2023)

Worried that Britain’s political asylum system cannot cope with the number of people seeking protection, Boris Johnson’s government has taken an unusual and highly controversial route.

London has done a deal with Rwanda, whereby asylum-seekers would be sent to the East African country, and Rwandan officials would decide whether they deserve refugee status. If granted refugee status, they could stay in Rwanda but never go to the United Kingdom.

Why We Wrote This

Can a government outsource its duty of care for asylum-seekers? Britain is trying, and Rwanda is offering – for a price – to process and settle refugees applying for British protection.

It is not clear whether this is legal: Britain has signed refugee protection conventions that oblige London to allow migrants to make their case for protection. It is not clear whether it is workable: Over 28,000 people arrived in Britain illegally by boat last year. Does Rwanda have the resources to process, house, and employ that many people every year?

And it’s not clear that it would be safe for the refugees; just last year the British ambassador for human rights regretted that its government had refused to carry out “credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.”

Despite such doubts, Britain is not the only country taking this path. Denmark too is negotiating with Rwanda to outsource its migrant problem, rather than deal with it at home.

When the U.K. government last month announced a deal to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda for processing and resettlement, officials said the extreme measure was intended to “fix the broken asylum system.”

It may not get the chance. The plan has triggered widespread condemnation in Britain, with critics branding it inhuman and unworkable, and it is already facing legal challenges.

More than 4,000 miles away, many citizens in Rwanda also object. But their complaints spring from a different perspective: By taking in and housing migrants, the government would be prioritizing the newcomers over Rwandans.

Why We Wrote This

Can a government outsource its duty of care for asylum-seekers? Britain is trying, and Rwanda is offering – for a price – to process and settle refugees applying for British protection.

(Video) UK plan to send refugees to Rwanda is “cruel” and “immoral” say critics - BBC News

The reactions in both the United Kingdom and Rwanda go to the heart of some of the quandaries presented by the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill. The new policy also underscores the contrast between the way migrants from Europe are welcomed to Britain and the way those from Africa and the Middle East – who will make up the majority affected by the bill –are treated.

More than 50,000 Ukrainians have been offered humanitarian visas and free housing in Britain over the past three months.

Even on a continent grappling with a backlash against surging migrant numbers in recent years, the new U.K. policy stands out for its hard-line stance.

Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, has branded the plan “the very height of irresponsibility” that “shows how far from humanity and reality the government is.”

“What they’re doing is unprecedented in so-called Western democracies,” says Paul O’Connor, a civil servant with the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has brought a case against the U.K. government. “This is being driven entirely by racism. It’s not a rational response to asylum and immigration policy.”

Despite the criticisms, the British government has moved fast to implementits policy.Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the government is notifying 50 individuals that they will be transferred to Rwanda by the end of May.On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Rwandan government said the country is preparing to accept the first batch of asylum seekers.

Seeking jobs or protection?

The government says the new policy will deter those who make risky journeys to Britain, and put people smugglers out of business. Under thedeal, those deemed to have arrived in the U.K. unlawfully, in small boats, or hidden in trucks, crossing the English Channel, for example, will be sent to Rwanda. There, Rwandan officials will hear their asylum claims.

Successful claimants would be given refugee status in the East African country. Britain will pay Rwanda $210 million to fund education, housing, skills training, and language lessons for them. The Rwandan government has promised they would be “entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrollment in healthcare and social care services.”

Those not granted asylum would be allowed to stay in Rwanda, although without refugee status, or given the option to claim protection in a different country, according to government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo.

The UK wants to send refugees to Rwanda. Is that legal? (1)

Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP

British Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta walk together at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 19, 2022. Her plan to outsource the processing of refugees to Rwanda has sparked fierce debate.

(Video) UK to sign deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing - BBC News

U.K. Interior Minister Priti Patel has said that 90% of those entering the U.K. illegally are not genuine refugees, but rather single men seeking economic opportunities. But an analysis by the Refugee Council, a respected British charity, found last year that almost two-thirds of those who crossed the channel did qualifyfor refugee status in the U.K.

Britain’s Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda, along with a similar deal that Denmark is negotiating with the government there, represents a major break with international norms established since the end of World War II.

Specifically, scholars say, the U.K. deal breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, since it singles out for removal to Rwanda those migrants who have entered the U.K. illegally. The convention, recognizing that most refugees have no choice but to travel irregularly, prohibits governments from penalizing them for doing so.

A law passed last year in Denmark, paving the way for its current talks, “risks undermining the foundation of the international protection system for the world’s refugees,” the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, warned.

The UK wants to send refugees to Rwanda. Is that legal? (2)

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Who gets priority?

Nestled in emerald green hills in the center of the continent, Rwanda’s 13 million citizens already live in one of Africa’s most densely populated nations.

(Video) The UK to send asylum seekers to Rwanda: UN says Rwanda plan for refugees wrong | English News

Moses Muhoza, a builder in Kigali, feels that the pact casts Rwanda in a good light as a welcoming nation, but worries about being left behind.

“It appears as though our leaders are caring more for other people at the expense of the citizens. Commodity prices have shot up, there is limited work, rent is expensive,” says Mr. Muhoza, who earns about $10 a day. “I feel that we [Rwandans] should be prioritized.”

The government says locals and refugees will all gain, since U.K. funding will create jobs, particularly in the tech sector, for both groups. “These people will not live in camps but within communities and benefits will go towards everyone – migrants and citizens,” says Ms. Makolo, the government spokeswoman.

The UK wants to send refugees to Rwanda. Is that legal? (3)

Felly Kimenyi

Sanaa Almerdas (right) shares a light moment with young customers at the family's cafe in Kigali, Rwanda. Refugees from Yemen given protection by the Rwandan government, the Almerdas family has settled comfortably in the capital, Kigali.

Still, Frank Habineza, a vocal opposition member of Parliament, says Rwanda has no good reason to sign such an agreement.

“We are neither bigger nor richer than the U.K. There is pressure on natural resources and it is likely to bring conflict,” he says.

The economic windfall that will come from the U.K. deal, Mr. Habineza says, is “not clean money. Rwanda is being complicit in human rights violations by the U.K.,” he adds.

(Video) Why is the UK Sending Asylum Seekers to Rwanda?

In London, on the other hand, activists are concerned that the deal could land refugees in a country that is itself beset by allegations of human rights abuses by President Paul Kagame’s administration.

Mr. Johnson has brushed off such worries, calling Rwanda “one of the safest countries in the world.” But just last year, his ambassador for human rights, Rita French, regretted at the U.N. Human Rights Council that its government had refused to carry out “credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.”

In the early years of his tenure, Mr. Kagame was feted by the West as he stabilized and rebuilt a country shattered by genocide. But two decades on, critics have accused his government of becoming increasingly authoritarian, and of ordering political assassinations both at home and abroad.

Mr. Habineza, the opposition politician, once felt obliged to withdraw from a presidential election after his vice presidential running mate was killed and beheaded.

Details to follow …

Much is still unclear about how exactly the refugee deal would work in practice. “We are still working out the operational details,” says Ms. Makolo.

One uncertainty concerns the numbers of refugees who would be processed in Rwanda. Mr. Johnson has said that an “unlimited” number of people could be relocated. Rwanda will have “the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead,” he said the day the deal was unveiled.

On Thursday, government officials showed off three reception centers where they said asylum-seekers will be housed, with a capacity of 722 beds.Last year, according to British government figures, over 35,000 people entered the U.K. irregularly, 28,526 of them by boat.

“We are jointly assessing with the U.K. at every step how many are to be sent,” Ms. Makolo explained.

To be sure, Rwanda has a long history of welcoming refugees. Mr. Kagame, who himself grew up in a refugee camp, has overseen one of the continent’s most inclusive resettlement programs. A fraction of the U.K. in population and size, Rwanda already hosts some 130,000 refugees – almost the same as Britain.

Burhan Almerdas is among them. Before fleeing Yemen in 2019, he knew nothing about Rwanda. Now, he runs a successful restaurant business in an up-market district of the capital where he and his wife have resettled. “I know many … do not want to come because they would rather prefer a good European lifestyle,” he says.

“But if you are looking for a place where you can make a living for your family in relative safety,” he adds, “then this is the place to be.”

Felly Kimenyi contributed reporting to this article from Kigali, Rwanda.

(Video) Why is Britain sending asylum seekers to Rwanda? | Inside Story

Editor's note: This article has been amended to reflect the Rwandan government's insistence that it will not send failed asylum seekers back to the countries from which they have fled.


Will UK send asylum seekers to Rwanda? ›

The UK government has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Rwanda which essentially means that rather than fulfilling its legal obligations towards asylum seekers and refugees, it will send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

What is the agreement between UK and Rwanda? ›

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UK and Rwanda for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement is a political agreement under which anyone who is deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK since 1 January 2022 may be relocated to Rwanda: their claim for asylum in the UK would not be considered, ...

Why are UK refugees being sent to Rwanda? ›

Government policy states that removals to Rwanda, “are intended to deter people from making dangerous journeys to the UK to claim asylum, which are facilitated by criminal smugglers, when they have already travelled through safe third countries” (p.

Why is UK deporting to Rwanda? ›

Why is the UK sending asylum-seekers to Rwanda? The UK hopes to deter irregular migration into the country.

What are the new asylum seekers Rules 2022 UK? ›

The 2022 Act and Part 11 of the Immigration Rules contains the legal framework within which a person granted refugee status in the UK will be provided with permission to stay. A recipient of refugee status will either be granted refugee permission to stay or temporary refugee permission to stay.

Can UK citizens live in Rwanda? ›

Employment opportunities are available for British nationals. However, you require a valid work permit to work in Rwanda. You may also be required to provide a police clearance /disclosure from your home country before receiving a work permit.

How long does it take to get a UK visa in Rwanda? ›

How long does it take for a UK Standard Visitor Visa to be ready? It takes about 15 business days for your application form to be processed. Nevertheless, our advice is that you apply for your visa at least 8 weeks before your flight.

Do refugees have to claim asylum in the first safe country UK? ›

Do people have to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach? No. Neither the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor EU law requires a person to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. People trying to cross the Channel can legitimately claim asylum in the UK if they reach it.

How many refugees are going to Rwanda? ›

As of end of March 2022, Rwanda hosted 127,585 people of concern, including 126,744 refugees and 841 asylum seekers.

Who are the refugees going to Rwanda? ›

Rwanda, Africa's most densely populated country, is currently home to an estimated 150,000 refugees from other African countries, many of whom “work as farm labourers and domestic servants.”

What is Rwanda refugee policy? ›

It is an immigration policy whereby people identified by the United Kingdom as being illegal immigrants or asylum seekers will be relocated to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement.

Is Rwanda a nice place to live? ›

Beautiful weather prevails, making the country a pleasant spot to call home. Locals are also some of the friendliest, most open and welcoming people in Africa. And, although Rwanda has a tumultuous history, the situation today is much more stable, with expats reporting feeling extremely safe.

Are refugees being deported to Rwanda? ›

The Home Office is planning a new deportation flight to Rwanda, the Guardian has learned. Some newly arrived asylum seekers in hotels have received letters from the department telling them their asylum claims are deemed inadmissible for consideration in the UK.

Is Rwanda still a British colony? ›

Despite never being a British colony, Rwanda IS hosting the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM). Rwanda voluntarily joined the organization in the year 2009.

How many immigrants have been deported to Rwanda? ›

'Incredibly dangerous' journey

The vast majority of them, 23,655, were men and nearly two thirds came from just four countries: Iran (7,874), Iraq (5,414), Eritrea (2,829) and Syria (2,260).

How much money do asylum seekers get in UK? ›

Cash support

You'll get £40.85 for each person in your household. This will help you pay for things you need like food, clothing and toiletries. Your allowance will be loaded onto a debit card (ASPEN card) each week. You'll be able to use the card to get cash from a cash machine.

Do asylum seekers get free housing in the UK? ›

When someone gets refugee status, they can no longer stay in asylum accommodation. They can choose where to live, but they have to pay for their rent or ask for government help – like any UK citizen.

Can asylum seekers work UK 2022? ›

Asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of an asylum claim or further submission cannot work as an employee or a worker, even for a voluntary organisation, unless they have been granted permission to work under Paragraph 360 or 360C of the Immigration Rules.

How long can I stay in Rwanda without a visa? ›

Validity of Visa: 30 days. Single or Multiple Entry: Multiple entry. Work or No Work: Work is not permitted. Change of Status: A person who holds a sub-class V-1(m) Entry Visa and wants to visit Rwanda for longer than 30 days shall apply for another category of tourist visa.

Can you buy land in Rwanda as a foreigner? ›

The simple answer to this is: Yes! You can buy property in Rwanda even if you don't have Rwandan citizenship. And, even better, it is actually very simple and fast. Below we describe the process of transferring ownership of a property in Rwanda.

How long can I stay in Rwanda? ›

Immigration & Visas

A single entry conference visa costs US $30 and is valid for 30 days. A multiple entry business visa costs US $50 and is valid for one year. The East African Tourist Visa (EATV) covers Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, costs US $100 and is valid for 90 days.

Can I move to Rwanda? ›

Like many countries, there are a number of ways to enter Rwanda legally and work. You need to start by obtaining a visa. There are several options, beginning with a tourist visa for any expatriates who would like to go on a first fact-finding trip before moving to Kigali.

Which countries can Rwandans visit without a visa? ›

Rwandan passport holders have visa-free access and visas on arrival to countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Rwandan citizens do however require a visa to enter 168 destinations in the world such as China, Turkey, Russia, the United States and the entire European Union.

Is Rwanda a visa free country? ›

No. Rwanda adopted the electronic visa system in 2018, and as a result, you can apply for a Rwanda visa online. iVisa can help with the online application process.

Is Rwanda safe for refugees? ›

Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. Individuals will be relocated to Rwanda and have their asylum claims processed by the Rwandan authorities. The partnership is an important part of our reform of the broken asylum and migration system.

Do you get paid to host a refugee? ›

It will not pay hosts; hosting is an altruistic relationship where no rent or services in lieu are due in exchange for the hosting. Refugees at Home will not arrange placements for children, or guests with serious mental health issues or substance abuse problems.

What is the safest country for refugees? ›

Following a joint Ministerial Decision issued on 31 December 2019, 12 countries were designated as safe countries of origin. These are Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Gambia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Albania, Georgia, Ukraine, India and Armenia. In January 2021 Pakistan and Bangladesh were included in the aforementioned list.

Does Rwanda have refugee camps? ›

As situations constantly change across East Africa, Rwanda now hosts more than 170,000 refugees in 6 camps scattered across the country, home to Congolese and Burundian refugees.

Who is Rwanda allies with? ›

Bilateral relations. Several west European and African nations, Canada, People's Republic of China, Egypt, Libya, Russia, the Holy See, and the European Union maintain diplomatic missions in Kigali.

What was Rwanda originally called? ›

At the urging of the UN, the Belgian government divided Ruanda-Urundi into two separate countries, Rwanda and Burundi.

Does the EU send asylum seekers to Rwanda? ›

European Union

It is also helping to fund U.N.-run centres in Niger and Rwanda to process asylum seekers. Under a U.N. programme called the Emergency Transit Mechanism, more than 3,000 people from Libyan detention centres who were heading for Europe have been transferred to Niger.

Where will asylum seekers live in Rwanda? ›

Anyone the Rwandan authorities decide to deport – such as people who commit a crime – can be sent to the first “safe” country or their country of origin. Asylum seekers will stay in a hostel while their claims are processed.

Is Rwanda a poor country? ›

Half of the population still lives in poverty, and many children still drop out early from school due to the poor quality of education. Advancements in education and agriculture, especially given the large rural population, will be essential for Rwanda's continued development over the next decade.

Can I become a citizen in Rwanda? ›

Acquisition of nationality

Nationality can be acquired in Rwanda through birth or later in life through naturalization.

How many Rwandan refugees are there in the UK? ›

It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of Rwandans in the United Kingdom, but an estimated figure of 10,000–15,000 is likely, drawing on existing data sources (see section 2). Rwandans in the United Kingdom mostly arrived between 1994 and 2000, with smaller numbers arriving in the period from 2000 to 2018.

What is the new immigration law in UK? ›

You will not be able to use an EU, EEA or Swiss national ID card to enter the UK from 1 October 2021 unless you: have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. applied to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 but have not received a decision yet.

Can a foreigner get a job in Rwanda? ›

You will need a VISA to work in Rwanda. It is recommended to obtain employment there before applying, as your new employer can often sponsor your application. You can find out more information by visiting your local embassy website. More information is available using the button below.

What is Rwanda rich in? ›

Economy of Rwanda
Main industriescement, agricultural products, small-scale beverages, soap, furniture, shoes, plastic goods, textiles, cigarettes
Ease-of-doing-business rank38th (very easy, 2020)
Exports$1.05 billion (2017 est.)
35 more rows

How many foreigners live in Rwanda? ›

Both sexes - Total - Total - 2012
Foreigners PopulationPersons87,346.0
Foreigners Population, %%0.1
9 more rows
9 Apr 2014

Which countries deported to Rwanda? ›

Rwanda's acceptance of asylum-seekers

Israel made a similar arrangement with Uganda. Under the terms of the controversial arrangement, several thousand Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers had to choose between immigration detention in Israel or to “voluntarily” agree to be deported to Rwanda and Uganda.

What nationality are the people being deported to Rwanda? ›

Those due to be deported include Albanians, Iraqis, Iranians and a Syrian, Care4Calais said. UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi had earlier denounced the UK government policy as “all wrong” and said it should not be “exporting its responsibility to another country”.

Is the Rwanda plan still on? ›

There is still a lot we do not know about the Rwanda plan, because it is facing many legal challenges. Until the time of writing (3 August 2022), no one has been sent to Rwanda (discussed below).

What is the UK relationship with Rwanda? ›

The asylum partnership arrangement

The UK and Rwanda agreed a Migration and Economic Development Partnership in April 2022. It includes a five-year 'asylum partnership arrangement' as detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Home Secretary and Rwanda's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Does Rwanda have a royal family? ›

The Kingdom of Rwanda was a pre-colonial kingdom in East Africa which survived with some of its autonomy intact under German and Belgian colonial rule until its monarchy was abolished during the Rwandan Revolution in 1961. After a 1961 referendum, Rwanda became a republic and received its independence in 1962.

Who controlled Rwanda? ›

During World War I, the Belgians gained control of Rwanda and Burundi. After the war, on August 23, 1923,the League of Nations mandated Rwanda and Burundi under Belgian supervision. The Belgian Administration Under Belgian administration, the power of the Mwami was curtailed.

Why is UK deporting people to Rwanda? ›

Why is the UK sending asylum-seekers to Rwanda? The UK hopes to deter irregular migration into the country.

Can a foreigner get citizenship in Rwanda? ›

Rwandan Citizenship. Foreign nationals of 18 years of age and above, living in Rwanda or abroad may apply for Rwandan Nationality provided they fulfil the necessary requirements as provided by the Rwandan Law on Nationality.

What happens when you get deported from UK? ›

Deportation means being forced to leave the UK and being unable to return for at least 10 years. It is used for non-British citizens who have committed criminal offences. If the Home Office wants to deport you, you will be given a notice of a decision to deport.

Do other countries send asylum seekers to Rwanda? ›

The UK's plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is not the first of its kind. From Israel to Australia, several countries have used offshoring policies for refugees and migrants.

Where are refugees coming from UK? ›

In 2021, the top five most common countries of nationality of people who applied for asylum in the UK were Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Albania and Syria.

Where are most the asylum seekers coming from UK? ›

Nationality of asylum seekers and refugees

In 2021, 43% were nationals of Middle Eastern countries, 28% of asylum applicants were nationals of African countries, 18% were nationals of Asian countries, and 12% were from Europe.

What benefits do refugees get in the UK? ›

You might be entitled to benefits like: Universal Credit - if you're unemployed, too ill to work or on a low wage. Pension Credit - if you've reached State Pension age. Housing Benefit - if you need help to pay rent and you've reached State Pension age or you're in temporary or supported housing.

Which city in the UK has the most refugees? ›

This contrasts starkly with those parts of the country where hundreds of refugees have been resettled. In total, Coventry (750), Bradford (717), Birmingham (622), Edinburgh (581) and Glasgow (521) have the highest number of resettled refugees since 2014.

What is the difference between refugees and asylum seekers? ›

An asylum seeker is a person looking for protection because they fear persecution, or they have experienced violence or human rights violations. A refugee is a person who asked for protection and was given refugee status. They may have been resettled in another country or be waiting for resettlement.

How long can an asylum seeker stay in the UK? ›

Grant of asylum as a refugee

If you are granted asylum in the UK you are recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention and are allowed to remain in the UK for 5 years (limited leave to remain).

Is seeking asylum illegal UK? ›

In the UK, this means they do not have the same rights as a refugee or a British citizen would. For example, people seeking asylum aren't allowed to work. The right to seek asylum is a legal right we all share. It isn't illegal to seek asylum, because seeking asylum is a legal process.

Do refugees get free healthcare in UK? ›

Groups that are exempt from charge include: refugees (people who have been granted asylum, humanitarian protection or temporary protection under the immigration rules) and their dependants.

Which country takes most refugees? ›

More than 7 in 10 of all refugees under UNHCR's mandate and other people in need of international protection come from just five countries. Türkiye hosts the largest number of refugees, with 3.7 million people.
Welcome to UNHCR's Refugee Population Statistics Database.
Türkiye3.7 million
Uganda1.5 million
3 more rows
27 Oct 2022


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