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Britain has partnered with Rwanda to process and settle thousands of migrants


The British government recently announced a pilot plan to address its continuing refugee crisis. The U.K. interior ministry has signed a deal with Rwanda to send many migrants arriving in the U.K. to the East African nation where their asylum claims can be processed. Many may be asked to settle there. As Willem Marx reports, the proposal has already drawn widespread condemnation.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: The authorities in Britain insist this new partnership with Rwanda is designed to combat criminal gangs that exploit migrants. After 28,000 people crossed the English Channel from France in small boats last year and several drowned, efforts to halt those potentially deadly journeys have included cooperation with French police, payments to the French government and the threatened use of British naval ships to push migrant boats back from the shores of southern England. None have worked, and so now U.K. authorities will pay around $150 million to the Rwandan government to accept single male travelers that they say have arrived in the U.K. illegally. The U.K.'s Interior Minister Priti Patel traveled to Rwanda to sign the agreement with her Rwandan counterparts.


PRITI PATEL: We, as two ministers, stand here today, absolutely committed to changing some of the norms around the broken global migration system because, for too long, other countries and, by the way, naysayers just sit on their hands and have been watching people die.


MARX: Hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the Interior Ministry last week, and more than 150 NGOs and advocacy groups have slammed the idea at a time when tens of thousands of British residents are volunteering to host refugees from Ukraine.


ZOE GARDNER: The government is completely out of step with the public here.

MARX: Zoe Gardner is the policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. She told the BBC the policy was, quote, "despicable."


GARDNER: We simply cannot support sending vulnerable refugees who may be victims of torture, who may have survived atrocities and war, and packing them off halfway around the world to a poor country.

MARX: In a highly unusual intervention, the country's top two religious leaders also added their voices to the chorus of criticism. That included Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who told an Easter congregation that the policy raises serious ethical questions.


JUSTIN WELBY: The details for politics and politicians. The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot because subcontracting out our responsibilities is the opposite of the nature of God.

MARX: Many of Britain's conservatives have for years sought to toughen immigration policies, pursuing what was called a hostile environment approach toward migrants and pushing for Brexit, a policy partly designed to better control Britain's borders. But last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fined for breaking his own COVID regulations about social gatherings. Many say the Rwanda deal is designed to draw attention away from Johnson's own difficulties, including political opponents like Labour leader Keir Starmer.


KEIR STARMER: The true aim of this is just to distract from the lawbreaking of the prime minister, and that's why I say it shows that he's got no answers. He's got no grip. He's got no shame. It's a desperate announcement.

MARX: Tomorrow, Johnson will face questions from members of parliament after a long Easter break. He may hope they'll focus more on the resettlement of refugees in Rwanda than on his own long-term future in Downing Street. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX TAILOR'S "UNGODLY FRUIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]