UK-Rwanda migrants deal: What UNHCR thinks of externalization of protection

UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel (left) and Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta sign partnership Thursday April 14. Courtesy Photo

Keen on fixing the migrant crisis, the UK will send illegal migrants on its territory or incoming ones to Rwanda “for processing and resettlement” under a $157 million deal signed in Kigali Thursday.

The migrants transfer partnership has sparked controversy locally and in London with its critics raising concerns over issues ranging from its cost, rights issues and whether it is the appropriate way to deal with the migrant problem facing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

Others have been questioning the choice of Rwanda for this and that reasons as to why the country should not take in the migrants.

Rwandan authorities say the migrants will, under the program, be entitled to “full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services.”

But what do humanitarian agencies or the United Nations think of such schemes? Is it legal for a country to transfer its migrants, refugees or asylum seekers abroad, and under what circumstances is it acceptable?

Here is what the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) thinks of partnerships of this nature. The agency referred to the arrangement as “externalization” of international protection in its note dated 28 May 2021.

UNHCR position:

  • As the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, international cooperation is essential.
  • States need to act, within and beyond their borders and regions, to share responsibilities with States and communities hosting the large majority of the world’s refugees.
  • States may make arrangements with other States to ensure international protection, as long as these arrangements enhance responsibility sharing and are consistent with the ‘widest possible exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms’ of refugees.
  • Practices that shift burdens, avoid responsibility, or frustrate access to international protection are inconsistent with global solidarity and responsibility sharing.

The agency had, by the time of publication, not commented with regard to the just-signed partnership between Rwanda and the UK, in particular.

However, Rwanda previously penned deals of the same nature, which saw hundreds of African migrants trapped in Libya detention centers transferred to the country as part of the Emergency Transit Mechanism program supported by the West, African Union and the UN.

The migrants are given options ranging from voluntary return and reintegration to the country of origin, resettlement to third nations or stay in Rwanda.

Share this post: