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Britain's home secretary defends deal to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda

Britain's Home Secretary, James Cleverly attends "Migration, a global challenge", a talk at Rome's International Affairs Institute (IAI), Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024   -  
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Domenico Stinellis/AP


Britain’s home secretary on Tuesday touted Britain’s newly approved migrant deportation deal with Rwanda as a "new and creative" deterrent to an old and growing problem, but said he took seriously criticism by the U.N. refugee agency that it violates international law.

Home Secretary James Cleverly visited Italy, ground zero in Europe’s migration debate, hours after the U.K. Parliament approved legislation allowing the government to deport some people to Rwanda who enter the country illegally.

The deal is aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel from France and is similar in some basic aspects to Italy’s controversial deal to outsource the processing of asylum-seekers to Italian-run centers in Albania.

Human rights groups have said both deals, forged by conservative governments amid anti-migrant sentiment among voters, violate the rights of migrants that are enshrined in international refugee conventions.

On Tuesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the UK-Rwanda deal is “not compatible with international refugee law” because it uses an asylum model “that undermines global solidarity and the established international refugee protection system.”

Cleverly defended the deal as a necessary response to a problem that has outgrown the international institutional way of processing migrants and refugees.

He said Britain will not tolerate people smugglers determining who arrives on British soil.

He said he took seriously the UNCHR criticism and said Britain was a law-abiding country.

“Of course we will respect the U.N. enormously,” he said. “We take it very, very seriously. Doesn’t mean to say we always agree with their assessment. But we will, of course look at that.”

Cleverly visited the Italian coast guard headquarters on Tuesday and on Wednesday is to visit the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where tens of thousands of migrants have arrived after crossing the Mediterranean Sea on boats setting off from northern Africa.

Cleverly also said that the drowning of another five people trying to cross to the UK were "heartbreaking news".

Earlier on Tuesday, French authorities reported that at least five people died when a boat carrying about 100 or more migrants got into trouble while trying to cross the English Channel.

The british government says its deportation plans will help stop the tide of people entering Britain illegally because migrants won’t make the risky crossing in leaky inflatable boats if they know there is a chance they will be sent on one-way ticket to Rwanda.

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