Multimillion pound plans by the UK Government to process asylum seekers in Africa have been described as “despicable” by the First Minister.
Nicola Sturgeon said the proposal was being set out to distract from lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out the UK Government’s new plan for immigration at a speech in Kent on Thursday morning.
It would see asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats being flown for processing in Rwanda, while the Royal Navy will take over operational command from Border Force in the Channel with immediate effect.
Some of those who make the perilous crossing of the Channel, as well as by other means deemed “illegal” by the UK Government, would be sent to Rwanda while their claims are assessed “offshore”.
Sturgeon said the plan is “a despicable policy on its own terms”.
She tweeted: “Add the fact that it’s being out today to distract from #partygate and you see the utter moral bankruptcy of this Tory government laid bare. Shameful.”
UK home secretary Priti Patel is expected to sign a deal with the East African nation during a visit on Thursday, with people seeking sanctuary in the UK to be sent more than 4000 miles.
Some of those who make the perilous crossing of the Channel, as well as by other means deemed “illegal” by the Government, would be sent to Rwanda while their claims are assessed “offshore”.
An initial £120m is expected to be given to the Rwandan government under a trial scheme, which is being criticised by refugee charities as a “cruel and nasty decision” that will fail to address the issue and “lead to more human suffering and chaos”.
Johnson said the deal with Rwanda will become “a new international standard in addressing the challenges of global migration and people smuggling”.
He said: “The deal we have done is uncapped, and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead.
“And let’s be clear, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”
Johnson also said the new offshore asylum approach is intended to end the “barbaric trade in human misery conducted by the people smugglers in the channel”, adding that crossings could reach 1000 a day in a few weeks.
He also warned of “exploitation” if people enter the UK that way and said: “These vile people smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard.”
But human rights campaigners have described the UK Government’s plan as “barbaric”, “cowardly” “shockingly ill-conceived”.
Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf tweeted: “UK Govt rightly provides asylum and refuge to Ukrainians fleeing war, but wants to send others seeking asylum thousands of miles away to Rwanda for ‘processing’ – and you still question whether this heartless Tory Govt is institutionally racist?”
And Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, described the plan as “evil”.
‘It’s just chilling, absolutely chilling, to think that people who are coming here for a whole host of reasons – vulnerable people – are going to be taken all the way to Africa to be processed.’Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s just chilling, absolutely chilling, to think that people who are coming here for a whole host of reasons – vulnerable people – are going to be taken all the way to Africa to be processed.
“This is not the mark of a civilised society. It’s evil.
“It just turns my stomach to see that our (UK) Government acting in our name can behave in such a way, and I think a lot of people are going to be quite aghast.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also attacked the plans. He tweeted on Wednesday night: “This is horrific. A dog whistle to the hard right from a Tory government in its death throes.”
The expected deal with Rwanda comes after other locations touted – including Ascension Island, Albania and Gibraltar – were rejected, at times angrily by the nations suggested.
Peers could mount fresh resistance to the measure, having already inflicted a series of defeats to the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.
The legislation is currently in a tussle between the Commons and the Lords after peers defeated ministers, including with a demand that offshore asylum claims should be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.
British Red Cross executive director Zoe Abrams said the humanitarian network was “profoundly concerned” about the plans to “send traumatised people halfway round the world to Rwanda”.
‘The financial and human cost will be considerable; evidence from where offshoring has been implemented elsewhere shows it leads to profound human suffering.’Zoe Abrams, British Red Cross executive director
“The financial and human cost will be considerable; evidence from where offshoring has been implemented elsewhere shows it leads to profound human suffering, plus the bill that taxpayers will be asked to foot is likely to be huge,” she added.
Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The timing of this announcement is shamefully political. As pressure mounts on those at the top of this government, they are using the rights and the lives of refugees to deflect from their own political woes. This is utterly reprehensible.
“Once again, the government is stepping back from its legal and moral obligations and shunting responsibilities onto other bodies, in this case, a country which has only a fraction of the wealth and resources.
“A truly global Britain would proudly play a leading role in international protection, and create a fair and efficient asylum system of which we can all be proud and which would cost far less than throwing money at this doomed venture.”