By Alistair Smout and Clement Uwiringiyimana
(Reuters) – Britain could send tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda to be resettled, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, laying out a tougher approach to breaking networks smuggling people and stem the flow of migrants through the English Channel.
Immigration concerns were a big factor in the 2016 Brexit vote, and Johnson has come under pressure to deliver on his pledge to “take back control” of the UK’s borders. The plan, however, drew criticism from the opposition and charities.
“We must ensure that the only route to asylum in the UK is safe and legal,” Johnson said in a speech in Kent, south-east England, where thousands of migrants in small boats landed on the beaches of the English Channel last year.
“Those who try to skip the line or abuse our systems will not find any automatic way to install them in our country, but will be quickly and humanely removed to a safe third country or their home country,” the Conservative prime minister said.
Anyone who has arrived in the UK illegally since January 1 could now be relocated to Rwanda, Africa, which would disrupt the business model of people smuggling gangs, he said.
“The agreement we have made is not limited and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the next few years,” he said.
The plan received strong criticism from the opposition. The Labor Party said it was expensive, “impractical and unethical”.
Concerns were also raised about the human rights situation in Rwanda, which the British government itself noted last year.
Johnson said Rwanda was “one of the safest countries in the world”, adding, however, that the risk of ending up in the African country would prove to be a “considerable deterrent” over time for anyone trying to enter the UK.