Let us first look closely at the context that drove the UK Government’s determination to place on the statute book the Nationality and Borders Bill, now an Act (NBA), and agree the deal with Rwanda. 

The latest batch of 554 people who reached the UK on 15 and 19 June took the number who crossed the English Channel illegally in boats since the start of 2018 to over 50,000. The Channel crisis, for that is what it is, has to date seen more than 75,000 people arrive without prior permission by lorry and boat since 1 January 2018; there were just 299 boat arrivals in the whole of 2018. In 2021 there were over three times those of 2020 and over fifteen times the 2019 figure. So far in 2022, the rate is more than double that of last year’s record numbers.

The situation in which unvetted people are entering the UK in their thousands has major implications for public safety and is also adding huge strains to our already overwhelmed and massively abused asylum system. This crowds out genuine refugees and is grossly unfair to UK taxpayers. 

It is worth noting that: 90% of Channel-crossers are male; 70% are adult men between the ages of 18 and 39 years; nearly all those arriving via this illegal route claim asylum; and 98% of all arrivals have no passport when processed. Many have been seen discarding documents and mobile phones at the point of being picked up by British vessels. Why would genuine asylum seekers want to do that? 

The concept of ‘inadmissibility’, now entrenched in statute, will allow UK authorities to categorise as inadmissible claims for asylum from those coming illegally from a safe country or who have passed through a safe or safe countries to reach the UK and failed to claim asylum in that country or have had a claim rejected there. Many setting off from French shores have already been denied asylum in other European countries. Asylum rejection rates at first instance are much higher in France and the EU than the UK. 

The Schengen agreement exposes Switzerland to the weak and porous external borders of the EU, where migrants posing as asylum seekers continue to pour in, both legally and illegally. According to Facts4EU.org, in 2021 there were nearly 230,000 illegal migrants detected entering the EU, an increase of over 60% on 2019 - the pre-pandemic year. I have no doubt that this number will grow, impacting on us all. 

The UK Government has described the agreement with Rwanda as, “a world leading partnership”. In fact, sending asylum seekers to a (safe) third country where their asylum claims can be considered is not a novel idea. Australia has on and off since 2001, had offshore processing centres in place in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. In 2003, Sir Tony Blair’s Government, failed to persuade the EU to adopt something similar. In 2005, the German Interior Minister, Otto Schily, also, unsuccessfully, ran with the idea. 

Coming back to today, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg blocked the first flight to Rwanda, notwithstanding the UK Attorney General’s advice that sending asylum seekers to the safe country of Rwanda (where they would be helped to lodge claims and, if successful, be supported financially) did not conflict with asylum seekers’ rights under the EHCR or the 1951 Refugee Convention. The UK’s High Court and Supreme Court agreed with the Government.

The ECHR justified its decision partly by citing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggestion that asylum seekers in Rwanda would not have access to fair procedures on their claims. How ironic then that the UNHCR has been closely involved in the transfer of migrants to Rwanda from camps in Libya as well as some 30,000 refugees from Burundi.

I have long argued that the processing of asylum applications in safe third countries like Rwanda is not, on its own, going to stop illegal immigration across the Channel. However, determined implementation of the policy, perhaps in tandem with friendly countries facing similar problems, could play a critically important part in solving the problem.  

Alp Mehmet is a British former diplomat and one of the United Kingdom’s  first two ethnic minority ambassadors. He is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK