The British agreement on Rwanda sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ for banning refugees from entering Europe

The United Kingdom is not the first country to prefer to relocate migrants and conclude an ‘agreement’ in this regard. The tide has turned on migrants, especially since the influx of refugees from Syria. Rwanda is in demand.

Carlijne Vos

The British government’s plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda are in line with the broader trend of keeping refugees as long as possible, human rights groups say with concern. ‘By leaving the asylum procedure, the British are avoiding legal responsibility under the Refugee Convention,’ says Jan Kooy of Human Rights Watch (HRW), for example.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and HRW do not have a good word for the proposal, which was sealed by British Interior Minister Priti Patel on Thursday in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. “Everything seems to be allowed since the agreement with Turkey: rejections, dealings with controversial regimes, and even the ceding of the fundamental right to apply for protection in a country,” said Amnesty spokesman Emile Affolter. ‘Following the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, Europe seems to have abandoned its universal values ​​and norms.’

According to Jorrit Rijpmi, a professor of European law at Leiden University, the agreement with Rwanda is a ‘dangerous precedent’. ‘This threatens to further normalize rejection.’ It is a controversial practice in which border guards push migrants back across the border. Rijpma also talks about the sliding moral ladder that began after a million Syrian refugees fled to Greece in 2015, followed by tens of thousands of ‘economic migrants’ from safer countries hoping to find work in Europe.


The controversial 2016 EU agreement with Turkey halted a large influx of asylum seekers. Similar agreements have followed with countries such as Libya and Sudan, where the rule of law is even worse. Migrants and refugees who have managed to reach the borders of Fortress Europe in recent years are increasingly facing repression. As a result, countless migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean or frozen to death in recent years, such as Belarus on the border with Poland.

Boats used by migrants to cross the canal are stored in the British port.  Statue of Ben Stansall / AFP

Boats used by migrants to cross the canal are stored in the British port.Statue of Ben Stansall / AFP

Because of Brexit, Britain can no longer send asylum seekers back to France, so the country is now adopting the much-criticized Australian model. A few years ago, ‘outsourced’ was an asylum procedure on remote Pacific islands such as Nauru, where migrants languish in degrading shelters. ‘The goal is pure deterrence and it is successful in that regard,’ says Leo Lucassen, a professor at Leiden University and director of the International Institute of Social History.

According to Lucassen, the model of deterrence is not just the UK, but the whole of Europe. Denmark proposed a similar agreement with Rwanda last year. He also wants to return status holders to countries like Syria and Iraq.


Rwanda imposed itself as a ‘safe haven’ for refugees in 2017 after the US channel CNN sent shocking images to the world from Libya, where African migrants were ‘sold’ as workers for several hundred euros. Rwanda has offered to receive 30,000 African refugees stranded in Libya, devastated by the civil war and disenfranchised.

European member states have also pledged to receive refugees. They were supposed to be evacuated from Libya by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, but in practice little has come of it. After the corona erupted around the world, air transport came to a complete halt. In the end, only a few thousand Africans were rescued from Libya, a maximum of several hundred ended up in Rwanda.

Migrants will arrive in Britain by dinghy at the end of 2021, on the beach in Kent County.  Statue of Gareth Fuller / AP

Migrants will arrive in Britain by dinghy at the end of 2021, on the beach in Kent County.Statue of Gareth Fuller / AP

Rwanda also emerged when former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened to deport tens of thousands of illegal African migrants in 2018 to “cleanse the Jewish state of infiltrators”. These migrants, especially refugees from Sudan and Eritrea, would receive a € 3,500 release bonus if they left voluntarily. Rwanda has also raised its hand for this, but this plan has not been implemented in practice either.

Revenue model

Rwanda clearly sees another revenue model in British plans, but according to migration experts, the chances of success are slim again. ‘It seems to be mostly symbolic politics,’ Lucassen says. ‘After Brexit, by which the British government wanted to bring migration under control, it now wants to send a strong signal. According to experts, leaving the asylum procedure to a country with a very dubious reputation in the field of human rights is contrary to both the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Rwanda wants to convey to investors that it is a safe and democratic country, but according to Human Rights Watch, there is enough evidence that the rule of law and human rights are not respected. “Every critic of the government is in danger, arbitrary imprisonment and torture are widespread, and refugees have no rights,” said HRW East Africa Director Lewis Mudge. It is therefore doubtful whether asylum seekers in Rwanda can expect an asylum procedure that meets all human rights guarantees, Jorrit Rijpma also says. ‘Except for the question of whether Rwanda has the legal capacity to do so.’

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