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Off-shoring asylum policies could become 'flagship policy' in Global North

January 6, 2023 at 1:45 pm

Protest against the UK’s plan to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda in London, United Kingdom on 13 June 2022 [Raşid Necati Aslım/Anadolu Agency]

With its controversial Rwanda asylum scheme, under which asylum seekers are sent to the East African nation as their applications are processed, the UK is not the first to try to send immigrants to a third country and likely will not be the last.

From Denmark to Israel to Australia, various countries have adopted controversial off-shoring policies for asylum seekers and refugees in different ways, despite the method’s chequered track record.

Australia’s off-shore detention system has been the target of sharp criticism for being cruel, costly and ineffective at what it sought out to achieve.

Research has shown that under the conditions in off-shore detention centres in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the South Pacific island nation of Nauru, migrants endured very high levels of mental distress.

Australia’s off-shore asylum program is considered a shipwreck, both ineffective and expensive. Despite the policy that was introduced in 2001, asylum seekers still managed to enter the country until 2020.

READ: UK Rwanda deportees include victims of torture, human trafficking: Study 

It is estimated that the Australian government spent almost a billion on off-shore processing in the 2021-2022 financial year.

According to Peter William Walsh, a researcher from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, Israel and Australia are the two best examples, raising questions about whether the UK’s policy holds promise.

“The best comparison is perhaps Israel, which sent some several thousand asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. And it’s thought that it wasn’t a particular success, insofar as most of those individuals did not stay in those countries,” he explained.

There are important differences between the deals between Britain and Israel with Rwanda, with Tel Aviv’s “voluntary departures” program to Rwanda being optional, while the UK arrangement would be mandatory.

Israel’s initiative was not “a particular success”, said Walsh, explaining that “just a few dozen out of several thousand” actually remained in Rwanda.

Unlike the UK, Israel did not make this program public and made no formal agreements with Rwanda, which, according to Amnesty International, was an abdication of its responsibility to refugees and an example of the vicious political measures feeding the “global refugee crisis”.

Denmark: Innovator of Rwanda policy

Walsh said he strongly believes other countries could adopt similar policies in the future, pointing to Denmark as one nation actually pursuing a similar plan to send asylum seekers to, again, Rwanda. There they would have their claims heard with no possibility of returning to Denmark.

Danish officials previously said a deal with Rwanda would “ensure a more dignified approach than the criminal network of human traffickers that characterises migration across the Mediterranean today.”

READ: 21 QCs announce opposition to UK’s Rwanda immigration scheme 

“Actually, it was thought that the Danish government was the innovator of this policy. It turns out that the UK jumped over it and has made more progress in actually hammering out a deal,” said Walsh.

He added that other countries would look at the UK example. “It has some moral standing on the world stage. The UK, our lawyers, helped draft the Refugee Convention.

“So, there is this risk that other countries will think: ‘You know what, we have high rates of asylum applicants coming to this country. Why don’t we do something similar?’ But, of course, trying to do something similar and actually achieving it in practice? Well, that’s a quite different thing.”

Tunisia and Ethiopia are other potential destinations that Denmark is considering for an asylum deal.

The EU Commission has said external processing of asylum claims was “not possible” under current EU rules, but that Denmark had opted out and was, thus, exempt from some of the bloc’s regulations, including on asylum standards.

Critics have accused the EU of outsourcing the refugee crisis to poor African nations.

More than 3,000 people from Libyan detention centres hoping to reach Europe have been sent to the neighbouring nation of Niger under a UN program called the “Emergency Transit Mechanism”.

The UN has defended the program, claiming that it protects migrants from torture, sexual violence and indefinite detention.

 UK judges not eager to challenge government policy

Karen Doyle, the national organiser of the immigrant rights organisation, “Movement for Justice”, also said the UK’s Rwanda policy could become a flagship policy that other countries could seek to emulate.

“They need something that distracts people’s attention, which draws attention away from the chaos and the destruction that they’re waging against everyone. And asylum seekers are a convenient scapegoat for that.

“So, in terms of the court decision, where it decided the individuals had cases to answer, it would not challenge the policy,” she told Anadolu Agency, referring to a British High Court ruling last month that found the policy to be lawful.

According to Doyle, this decision was expected. “None of the UK courts, up to the Court of Appeal, got those people off the plane. It was the European Court of Human Rights that did that,” she said, adding: “I’m sure there will be an appeal for sure.”

Doyle also claimed that judges were, in general, not keen on challenging government policy, saying that Britain has a “very far-right racist government that’s made it very clear this is their flagship policy”.

READ: Will the UK’s migrant deportation plan get off the ground?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.