Patel can’t ‘test’ Rwandan politics if flights are grounded, says Smith
Earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) celebrated the successful evacuation of 119 vulnerable asylum seekers out of Libya to safety in Rwanda. Libya in North Africa has become the focus of humanitarian work in recent years as thousands of undocumented refugees find themselves stranded in the country hoping to reach Europe or end up being trafficked, stuck in a cycle of discrimination and slavery. The group of men, women and children sent to Rwanda – the youngest being less than a year old – came from Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia and mostly lived in neighborhoods of Tripoli, the capital.
Others are thought to have been held in detention camps, often for several months at a time.
The group joined 269 other refugees and asylum seekers at the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Gashora, Rwanda.
This is where UNHCR provides them with assistance, including shelter, food, medical care, psychosocial support for vulnerable cases, activities for children and language lessons.
Djamal Zamoum, UNHCR’s acting head of mission in Libya, said in late March: “These evacuation flights out of Libya continue to bring hope and safety to refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya.
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“Their success is based on the generosity of donors, as well as good cooperation and coordination with the Libyan and Rwandan authorities.
“However, further efforts are needed from other countries to accelerate the implementation of durable solutions from Rwanda and provide more resettlement opportunities for Libya’s most vulnerable refugees.”
In recent months, Rwanda has taken center stage in the headlines after its government struck a deal with the UK to absorb asylum seekers who had passed through Britain.
While many hailed it as a way to safely relocate asylum seekers, aid groups condemned the plans as another blow to the rights of people fleeing war and persecution, as well as other crises. .
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This week, a flight which was to carry up to seven people to Rwanda from the UK was canceled minutes before takeoff after a late intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The tribunal – which is not linked to the EU and of which the UK is a part – launched fresh challenges to the UK’s decision, with the plans now frozen.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “disappointed”, but added: “Preparation for the next flight is starting now”.
But James Wilson, from campaign group Detention Action, told the BBC how the rare intervention “shows how potentially dangerous deportations from Rwanda are”.
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He explained that the court had agreed that no one should be forced onto a plane until the new policy, struck only in April, is considered at a High Court hearing, which is expected to take place on next month.
Rwanda’s asylum plan will see some asylum seekers who reach Britain receive a one-way ticket to the East African country to seek asylum there instead.
They can then obtain a permanent status to stay in Rwanda or, failing that, they can ask to settle there for other reasons.
A third option may see them seek asylum in a “safe third country”.
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The policy does not cover all asylum seekers who arrive in the UK: the government says it is for those who arrive in the UK by “unlawful, dangerous or unnecessary methods”.
This could include on small inflatable boats or hidden in trucks, as they traveled through countries in which they could have sought asylum.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said “anyone entering the UK illegally” after January 1 could be sent out, with no limit on the number of eligible people.
Thirty-seven people were originally thought to have been listed for flight to Rwanda, but previous legal challenges already meant that number had been reduced.
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As part of the deal, Rwanda can also ask the UK to take in some of its most vulnerable refugees, but said this would be limited to “outlier” cases.
Upon arrival in Rwanda, asylum seekers will be accommodated in hotels which will cost around £4.7million per day.
The setup has been criticized because some hotels will require asylum seekers to share rooms, raising privacy issues.
The total cost of asylum to the UK government will be £1.5 billion a year.
The Rwandan government has a bad reputation among human rights groups who say it is guilty of repressing its own people.
The government of President Paul Kagame, in power since 1994, was previously accused of sending death squads to kill dissidents in exile.
It is unclear when and if the UK will send asylum seekers to Rwanda, but government officials have insisted plans will continue.