People who enter the UK illegally may end up being relocated to the African country of Rwanda, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.
An initial £120 million ($157 million) is expected to be given to the Rwandan government under a trial scheme, with Home Secretary Priti Patel striking a deal during a visit to the capital of Kigali.
The first people to be relocated to Rwanda will receive formal notifications within weeks, the government said, with the first flights expected to take place in the coming months.
Talking at a press conference in Kent on April 14, Johnson said the agreement is “uncapped” and Rwanda will have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead,” including those who have arrived illegally since the start of the year.
Johnson said that while Britain has generously provided sanctuary to countless people fleeing conflicts and persecution, “we cannot sustain a parallel illegal system.”
“Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not,” he said. “We can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here.”
The prime minister said he hopes the threat of relocation to Rwanda will help end “the most tragic of all forms of illegal migration,” namely “the barbaric trade in human misery conducted by the people smugglers” in the English Channel.
He said, “These vile people smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard, with men, women, and children, drowning in unseaworthy boats, and suffocating in refrigerated lorries.”
“We must halt this appalling trade and defeat the people smugglers,” he said.
Johnson pledged £50 million ($66 million) in new funding for boats, aerial surveillance, and military personnel to help ensure the measures are a “very considerable deterrent” to people-smuggling operations across the Channel.
And he said the individuals who succeed in making it to the UK “will be taken not to hotels at vast public expense” and instead will be housed in Greek-style detention centres, with the first opening “shortly.”
He said the Royal Navy would on April 14 take over operational command from the Border Force in the Channel to ensure “no boat makes it to the UK undetected.”
The main opposition Labour Party accused the prime minister of trying to distract from the “partygate” scandal with the “unworkable, unethical, and extortionate” relocation scheme.
But Johnson said the scheme will be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations,” and insisted Rwanda is “one of the safest countries in the world” and is “globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”
The prime minister acknowledged that the government expects the scheme to be challenged in the courts by what he called a “formidable army of politically-motivated lawyers.”
“So I know this system will not take effect overnight,” he said.
PA Media contributed to this report.