Ukrainian refugees could be sent to Rwanda if they travel to the UK without authorization, Boris Johnson said in an escalation of government plans to deport those crossing the English Channel seeking refuge.
During a visit to the Rwandan capital Kigali, the prime minister also urged NATO and G7 countries not to settle for a “bad peace” in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, saying it would lead to an escalation of the war machine. by Vladimir Putin.
Earlier, Johnson had said the prospect of Ukrainian refugees being sent to Rwanda under the government’s controversial scheme unveiled in April “just wasn’t going to happen.”
But asked at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (Chogm) meeting whether Ukrainians arriving by boat could face deportation to East Africa, he said: “The only circumstances people will be sent to Rwanda would be if they come to the UK illegally, and thus undermining the safe and legal routes we have. I think we are giving 130,000 visas to Ukrainians and they have at least two very good routes to come to this country.
“But if you come here illegally, you are harming everyone who comes here legally. And it’s crazy. So I’m afraid the answer is, I suppose, yes, in theory it could happen. But I find it very unlikely.”
Johnson’s remarks came as:
Politicians in 11 European countries condemned the Rwanda-UK scheme. But Johnson was found not to mention human rights abuses when he met with the country’s President Paul Kagame on Thursday, despite earlier indications that he would.
Ahead of a meeting with Prince Charles on Friday, Johnson was optimistic that he would defend the policy after the heir to the throne called it “terrifying” – but Downing Street and Clarence House sources suggested the matter would not be raised. .
The Rwandan government has confirmed that it has already received £120m from the UK government to house asylum seekers who have not yet arrived and has spent some of the money.
The prime minister has pledged £372m in aid to help countries grappling with rising food prices.
Critics of the government’s response to the war in Ukraine have pointed out that the UK receives fewer Ukrainians per capita than most of Europe.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “In contrast to the British public who have opened their doors to welcome Ukrainians in desperate search for safety, our prime minister has confirmed that the government intends to treat them as human cargo. be transported from the UK to Rwanda”.
In remarks made days before joining G7 leaders in Germany and then NATO in Spain, Johnson also warned that “Ukraine fatigue” may have set in on some of the major Western powers.
“My message to colleagues in the G7 and NATO in particular will be, ‘Now is not the time to settle for and encourage Ukrainians to settle for a bad peace, a peace for which they are asked to give up pieces of their territory in exchange for a ceasefire. I think it would be a disaster. It would be a trigger for Putin to escalate again whenever he wanted,” he said.
The Kigali government has confirmed it has started spending £120m on the asylum scheme, which was signed as part of a joint deal in April.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said: “Because this was meant to prepare all the accommodations and all the other institutions to reinforce the processes – so this was done.”
Pressed if any parts had already been spent, she said: “Part of it because we needed to prepare and we were ready to receive the first migrants on the 14th.”
Johnson vowed to start sending thousands of asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in May after deepening concern over the growing number of small boats transporting asylum seekers across the Channel.
Earlier this month, the maiden flight was abandoned following a dramatic 11-hour ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Amid allegations that Charles might lift immigration policy at their meeting, Johnson was optimistic when asked how he would respond. During an interview with broadcasters from a school in Kigali, the prime minister said: “People need to keep an open mind about politics, critics need to keep an open mind about politics. Many people can see its obvious merits. So yes, of course, if I go to see the prince tomorrow, I will emphasize that.”
Hours later, both Downing Street and Clarence House played down the possibility of a confrontation. Sources on both sides said they would not raise the issue when they meet.
Members of the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly from countries including Armenia, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy and Turkey lined up to condemn Britain for its conduct over Rwanda on Thursday.
German Frank Schwabe said: “Rwanda cannot be a partner in any kind of migration agreement. It is very worrying that the UK is willing to undermine respect for [the ECHR) because of a single decision it doesn’t like. The bill [of rights] will create an acceptable class of human rights abuses”.
He added: “You are part of questioning and ultimately destroying this organization and its values. Leave him alone.”