Small boat asylum seekers undeterred by Rwanda plan, survey finds

Deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlikely to deter those in northern France hoping to cross the Channel in small boats, according to a survey that found that three-quarters said they would still try to make the journey.

The snapshot survey of more than 60 asylum seekers in Calais and Dunkirk was carried out by the charity Care4Calais, which provides practical support to asylum seekers in both northern France and across the UK.

When the UKgovernment announced plans to offshore some asylum seekers to Rwanda on 14 April, ministers emphasised that the controversial scheme would act as a deterrent to asylum seekers planning to cross the Channel in small boats.

Asylum seekers who talked to Care4Calais said they were still prepared to take their chances.

“I’m willing to risk it,” said one. “Everyone is scared in the camp but I don’t think it will affect them [the decision to cross the Channel].”

Many of those interviewed fled Sudan or South Sudan and were horrified at the prospect of being flown back to a country not far from the starting point for their journey, especially after enduring the difficulties of passing through Libya, where many had to deal with traffickers, and making the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean to Italy.

“Rwanda is not good. It’s for animals, we take danger to get a safe life,” said another asylum seeker who participated in the survey.

On Sunday, more than 200 people crossed the Channel in small boats after an 11-day pause due to poor weather, although the government claimed the absence of these crossings was evidence that its Rwanda plan was already having a deterrent effect. The most recent crossings, prior to Sunday’s resumption of small-boat activity on the Channel, was on 19 April, when 263 people crossed in seven boats.

The offshoring plans are the subject of several legal challenges including one from Care4Calais, PCS and Detention Action. They are challenging the failure to publish details of the policy and the government decision to penalise asylum seekers based on irregular entry to the UK.

Care4Calais has launched a crowdfunder for the legal action and has condemned the impact of the plans on asylum seekers on both sides of the Channel. The charity is one of several to raise the alarm that since the government announced its plans to offshore people to Rwanda dozens of asylum seekers are reported to have gone missing from hotels across the UK where the Home Office is accommodating them, because they are fearful of being rounded up and put on a plane to Rwanda.

Sam Jonkers, a volunteer at Care4Calais, knows of some refugees who have vanished from hotels and says she has been deluged with text messages from asylum seekers fearful of being offshored.

“The Rwanda plans are devastating for people who have left such dangerous countries and had such difficult journeys to reach the UK,” she said. “I have received hundreds of text messages from terrified asylum seekers; they can’t sleep at night because they are so worried.”

One message states: “I couldn’t sleep. So frightened about what we expect to happen to us in the coming days with the Rwanda decision.”

Another said: “I now think there is no such thing as human rights anywhere in the world, Neither in Iran, UK or anywhere.”

While about a quarter of respondents to the Care4Calais survey in northern France said the Rwanda offshoring announcement would make them consider staying in France and seeking asylum there, many said they would continue with their plans to reach the UK.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, condemned the impact on asylum seekers in the UK of the Rwanda announcement, saying: “The government is failing in its duty of care to people in the asylum system by not recognising the devastating impact the threat of being expelled to Rwanda is having on them.”

He said the government was simply treating asylum seekers it hoped to offshore as “human cargo”.

Maddie Harris, of the Humans for Rights Network, is also aware that some asylum seekers have vanished from hotels since the offshoring announcement was made. She warned that many asylum seekers in the UK could go underground to avoid being offshored.

“This is a policy that trades human life for money,” she said. “It is forcing people out of the asylum system into destitution due to fear of removal, drastically increasing the risk of exploitation.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This world-leading migration and economic development partnership will overhaul our broken asylum system, which is currently costing the UK taxpayer £1.5bn a year – the highest amount in two decades. There is nothing in the UN refugee convention which prevents removal to a safe country. Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with national and international human rights laws.”

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