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UK’s Rwanda plan: Which other nations send asylum seekers abroad?

BRITISH Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered a setback to his plans to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda after parliament’s upper house backed a largely symbolic motion to delay ratification of a treaty aimed at overcoming a legal block.

Sunak’s “Safety of Rwanda” bill seeks to override a decision by the UK Supreme Court, which ruled last month that the East African country was an unsafe place to send asylum seekers, and the UK Supreme Court ruled last year that the East African nation was not a safe country to send people.

Britain then signed a treaty with Rwanda, which it said addressed those safety concerns, but parliament’s upper house voted for the agreement to be delayed until Kigali improves its asylum procedures.

The proposed law is likely to meet further opposition in parliament’s upper chamber, where peers could make amendments to the legislation and in extreme circumstances delay the bill for a year.

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If passed, the law could also face fresh legal challenges, as well as practical difficulties – such as finding airlines willing to provide flights.

Here are some countries that have taken a similar approach to migration, or are considering it:

Australia

Introduced in 2001, Australia’s offshoring asylum programme specifically targets migrants arriving in Australian waters by boat, and is aimed at discouraging refugees from making dangerous ocean crossings and stopping people smuggling.

Asylum seekers have been transferred to offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the South Pacific island nation of Nauru for their claims to be processed.

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The policy – known as the “Pacific Solution” – was dismantled in 2008, but it was revived in 2012 and became more restrictive in 2013, when the government said people arriving by boat would be denied resettlement, even if recognised as refugees.

Since 2012, more than 4,000 asylum seekers, including children, have been sent to detention centres in Manus and Nauru for processing. Many have waited more than five years for their asylum claims to be processed, according to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCA), a non-governmental organisation.

The offshoring asylum policy has been strongly criticised by the United Nations and aid groups who cite harsh conditions in the centres including abuse by guards and self-harm and depression among detainees.

Australia closed the facility on Manus Island in 2021 after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled it was illegal.

As of Oct. 31, 2023, 15 people were being processed in Nauru, according to official figures. 

Israel

In 2014, Israel introduced a now-defunct policy to send those rejected for asylum and illegal immigrants – mainly from Sudan and Eritrea – to Rwanda and Uganda for third-country resettlement.

They were given the choice of either being deported back to their country of origin or accepting a payment of $3,500 and a plane ticket to either Uganda or Rwanda, with any who stayed in Israel facing jail.

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Israel has said about 20,000 people either returned home or went to one of the East African countries under the policy, which human rights groups criticised for sending refugees to countries where there were no guarantees for their safety.

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The Israeli programme was scrapped in 2019 following its suspension by the country’s Supreme Court.

European Union

Italy said in November it would build two centres in Albania to host up to 36,000 migrants per year.

The centres, one on the coast for identification and another inland for detention would be paid for in full by Italy and operate under its jurisdiction, meaning they would be covered by European Union asylum rules.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the facilities should be operational in spring 2024, but the European Commission has not yet said whether the initiative is in line with EU law.

Austria and Germany are also considering plans to process asylum seekers abroad.

Denmark, which has introduced increasingly strict immigration policies over the last decade, passed a law in 2021 allowing refugees to be moved to asylum centres in a third country for processing. It was in talks with Rwanda about cooperation on migrants but has since put the plans on hold.

The EU indirectly supports offshore asylum programmes as part of broader efforts to stop refugees coming across the Mediterranean.

The bloc has paid Turkey billions of dollars to keep refugees from reaching Greece and has funded the Libyan Coast Guard, which pushes migrant boats bound for Europe back to North Africa. It is also helping to fund U.N.-run centres in Niger and Rwanda to process asylum seekers.

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Under a U.N. programme called the Emergency Transit Mechanism, more than 3,000 people from Libyan detention centres, who were heading for Europe, have been transferred to Niger.

A similar scheme sending asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda began in 2019.

The U.N. – which has criticised Britain’s Rwanda plan – says the arrangement is reasonable because it protects migrants from possible torture, sexual violence and indefinite detention in Libya.

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By LIN TAYLOR and NITA BHALLA

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