Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda, telling critics to come up with a better idea.
Writing a joint article in The Times with Rwanda’s foreign minister Vincent Biruta, Ms Patel described her controversial plans as “bold and innovative”.
Under the new scheme, approved refugees will have to stay in Rwanda, rather than return to the UK, and those who are rejected by the Rwandan government will be deported.
It will primarily be for adults but families could be sent there together in exceptional circumstances.
The idea has been slammed by many, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said it was “ungodly”.
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, used his Easter sermon to call it “depressing and distressing”.
Speaking on Easter Sunday, Mr Welby raised concerns about the idea and said there were “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas”.
His thoughts were echoed by Mr Cottrell, who said the UK “can do better than this” and it is the people who exploit asylum seekers that the country needs to “crack down” on.
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In the joint article, Ms Patel and Mr Biruta said it is “surprising that those institutions that criticise the plans fail to offer their own solutions” to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel.
They continued to defend the scheme by saying: “It will disrupt the business model of organised crime gangs and deter migrants from putting their lives at risk.”
Energy minister Greg Hands reiterated the government’s challenge to those who are against the policy when he appeared on Sky News on Monday.
Mr Hands said: “What others – the critics of this plan – need to do is to show what their solution would be.
“We have a position now where last year 28,500 people crossed the channel illegally into this country – that compares with just 300 in 2018.
“A growing problem – we’ve taken a bold and innovative measure with this agreement with Rwanda to take action here and I think the British people are in support of that.”
He denied the claim that Britain was outsourcing its responsibilties, saying it was “an agreement between two sovereign countries” and that Rwanda had a “very good track record on taking refugees”.
But Labour urged the government to “get the basic rights”, claiming that previous attempts by the government to tackle the issue of sea crossings – such as by giving £54m to France or considering the use of jet skis to push boats back – had failed.
Shadow policing minister Sarah Jones told Sky News the Home Office needed to speed up the processing of asylum claims, which had slowed sharply, while negotiating a returns policy with the EU and creating a proper legal scheme for people to be able to claim asylum “so that we don’t have people forced onto boats”.
“There are simple things we can do that would get a grip on this problem,” she said. “People want a fair system, they want people to have a fair hearing and then they want the system to work properly.”
Policy unlikely to achieve government’s aims, says Tory MP
Conservative MPs have broadly backed the Rwanda plan but they have been criticised by Labour politicians, human rights groups, and the United Nations.
Some Tory MPs suggested on Twitter that religious leaders should stay out of politics, saying the two archbishops had overstepped the mark.
Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested the Archbishop of Canterbury had misunderstood the aims of the policy and the government is “taking on a very difficult responsibility”.
However, former minister Andrew Mitchell, who serves as an MP for Sutton Coldfield, said although he had “enormous sympathy” for the government, the policy was unlikely to achieve its aims.
“What I’m worried about with the Rwanda policy is it won’t achieve what they are after, it’s also likely to be horrendously expensive, and we have to have a great care at this time for taxpayers’ money,” he argued.
Mr Mitchell added the “danger” is that the UK will no longer be a “beacon in a terrible and difficult world” for those fleeing persecution to rely on to rescue them.
The first migrants are expected to be sent to Rwanda on a chartered flight in May, however, it could be delayed with the government anticipating legal challenges against the partnership.