Ukrainian refugees are at risk of being sent to Rwanda if they travel to the UK without permission, Boris Johnson said in an escalation of the government’s plans to deport those traveling across the Channel in search of refuge.
During a visit to the Rwandan capital Kigali, the prime minister urged NATO and the G7 countries not to settle for a “bad peace” in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, as it would lead to an escalation by the war machine of Vladimir Putin.
Earlier, Johnson had said the prospect of Ukrainian refugees being sent to Rwanda under the controversial government plan unveiled in April “just wouldn’t happen”.
But at the meeting of Commonwealth heads of government (Chogm), asked whether Ukrainians arriving by boat can be deported to East Africa, he said: UK, thereby undermining the safe and legal routes we have. I think we give 130,000 visas to Ukrainians and they have at least two very good routes to get to this country.
“But if you come here illegally, you undermine anyone who comes here legally. And it’s crazy. So I’m afraid the answer is I suppose, yes, in theory that could happen. But I think it’s very unlikely.”
Johnson’s comments came as follows:
Politicians from 11 European countries condemned the plan between Rwanda and the UK. But it turned out that Johnson did not raise the human rights violations when he met the country’s president, Paul Kagame, on Thursday, despite previous indications that he would.
Ahead of a meeting with Prince Charles on Friday, Johnson was optimistic when he said he would defend the policy after the heir apparent reportedly called it “horrible” – but sources in Downing Street and Clarence House suggested the topic would not be raised. come.
The Rwandan government confirmed that it has already received £120 million from the British government to accommodate asylum seekers who have yet to arrive, and has spent some of the money.
The prime minister pledged £372 million in aid to help countries struggling with rising food prices.
Critics of the government’s response to the war in Ukraine have pointed out that the UK takes in fewer Ukrainians per capita than most of Europe.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “In stark contrast to the British public who have opened their doors to welcome Ukrainians in their desperate quest for safety, our Prime Minister has confirmed that the government intends to use them as human cargo. to treat. to be transported from the UK to Rwanda.”
In comments warning days before he would join G7 leaders in Germany, then NATO in Spain, Johnson also warned that “Ukraine fatigue” may have emerged in some of the major Western powers.
My message to colleagues in the G7 and especially NATO will be: ‘This is not the time to settle down and encourage Ukrainians to settle for a bad peace, for a peace to which they are invited for pieces of their territory in exchange for a ceasefire. I think that would be a disaster. It would be a trigger for further escalation by Putin whenever he wanted,” he said.
The government in Kigali confirmed it has started to spend the £120 million deposit on the asylum scheme, which was signed in April as part of a joint agreement.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said: “Because that was meant to prepare all the accommodations and all the other institutions to strengthen the processes – so that’s done.”
When asked if anything had already been issued, she said: “Part of it because we had to prepare and be ready to receive the first migrants on the 14th.”
Johnson pledged to start sending thousands of asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in May after growing concerns about the growing number of small boats transporting asylum seekers across the Channel.
Earlier this month, the inaugural flight was halted after a dramatic 11-hour ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
Amid claims that Charles might bring up migrant policy at their meeting, Johnson was optimistic when asked how he would respond. During an interview with broadcasters at a school in Kigali, the prime minister said: “People should be open to the policy, the critics should be open to the policy. Many people see its obvious benefits. So yes, of course, if I see the prince tomorrow, I’ll make that clear.’
Hours later, both Downing Street and Clarence House downplayed the possibility of a collision. Sources from both sides said they would not raise the subject if they met.
Members of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe from countries such as Armenia, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy and Turkey lined up on Thursday to condemn the UK for its behavior towards Rwanda.
German Frank Schwabe said: “Rwanda cannot be a partner for any migration agreement. It is deeply disturbing that the UK is willing to respect [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 it alone.”