UN refugee chief calls UK-Rwanda deportation plan ‘all wrong’

The UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi spoke to the media on Monday in Geneva. (Credit: UNHCR/Photographer)

The High Commissioner’s comments came a day before the first flight to Rwanda is scheduled to take off from the UK.

A day before the first flight to Rwanda carrying asylum seekers is scheduled to take off from the United Kingdom, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi called the deportation plan  “all wrong”.

“We believe that this is all wrong. This is all wrong,” he told reporters in Geneva on Monday at a briefing.  Grandi pointed out that exporting one’s obligations to deal with asylum seekers was contrary to principles of sharing international responsibilities enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the UK has ratified.  Adding that if it was other way around, with Rwanda sending asylum seekers to the UK, it would warrant some discussion, he said: “Here, we're talking about a country with structures and resources, that is exporting its responsibility to another country, Rwanda.”

His comments came on a day when the UK Court of Appeal upheld the decision to refuse a temporary injunction on the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda. The first flight to Rwanda is scheduled to depart on 14 June. High commissioner Grandi also slammed UK’s claim that this process is designed to “disincentivise dangerous and unnecessary journeys”.

“I think that if really, the UK and other countries wanted these dangerous journeys to stop, then there are other ways to do it,” he said. The UK defended this deal by pointing out that refugees reaching the UK are doing so by crossing the English Channel in small boats which endangers their lives. Referring to this defence, Grandi urged the governments of UK and France to engage in dialogue since France has the structures to conduct refugee status determination and help them.

He added that the complex issues involved in the reunification process of refugees need to be sorted out bilaterally between the UK and the respective European countries.

“Am I feeling sorry for the people that are embarking on dangerous journeys? Of course I do more than anybody…And do I feel revulsion for those that are profiting from this? Of course I do. They're criminals. They should be pursued, tried and jailed because they're committing grave crimes. But to say [that] we don't take people anymore [and therefore] go back to Rwanda, is not right (sic),” he said.

In April 2022, the UK signed a deal with Rwanda to deport some asylum seekers, who arrive at the island country via trucks and boats, to the African nation. As per the deal which is expected to last for five years, the UK government will pay around 120m GBP ($150m)  to Rwanda to assess the possibility of resettlement of those deported. The deal sparked global outrage among several agencies and non-profit organisations working in the human rights and humanitarian realms.