UNHCR voices concerns over UK asylum transfer plan

UNHCR staff attends to refugees and migrants. PHOTO | UNHCR

The UN refugee agency said it was opposed to the United Kingdom’s plan to export its asylum obligations hours after the country signed a partnership with Rwandan authorities paving the way for transfer of immigrants and refugees on its territory.

The $157 million deal signed Thursday by its home secretary Priti Patel and Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta in Kigali allows UK to send in illegal migrants for processing and resettlement as part of measures to deal with the migration crisis.

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

However, the UN refugee agency expressed “strong opposition and concerns” about the plan and urged both UK and Rwanda to rethink the plans.

“UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards. Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention,” Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said in a statement.

People fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing

UNHCR Statement

UNHCR further says the externalization arrangements will, instead of deterring refugees from resorting to perilous journeys, only magnify risks thereby causing them to seek alternative routes, and exacerbating pressures on frontline states.

This publication is yet to get a comment from relevant officials in Rwanda and the UK on the matter.

However, the authorities said through a press release issued after Thursday signing that by relocating migrants to Rwanda and investing in personal development and employment for migrants, “our nations are taking bold steps to address the imbalance in global opportunities which drives illegal immigration, while dismantling the incentive structures which empower criminal gangs and endanger innocent lives.”

The press release states that the partnership is going to take innovative approach to addressing the global migration crisis.

UNHCR hails Rwanda for providing a safe haven to refugees fleeing conflict and persecution for decades, but maintains that the majority live in camps with limited access to economic opportunities. 
“Wealthier nations must show solidarity in supporting Rwanda and the refugees it already hosts, and not the other way around,” it said.

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