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There's backlash over U.K. prime minister's plan to send migrants to Rwanda


Here in the United States, some politicians want to stop undocumented immigrants with a border wall. In the United Kingdom, they want to deter people from arriving by saying they will be deported to Rwanda in East Africa. After a number of legal challenges, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is unveiling his latest legislation to try to make that happen.


PRIME MINISTER RISHI SUNAK: It will mean, unequivocally, that Rwanda is safe, and there should be no more blocks to our ability to get people on planes and send them to Rwanda, because that is critical. We must have a deterrent that says if you come here illegally, you cannot stay, and you will be removed.

INSKEEP: Madeleine Sumption is studying the Prime Minister's plan. She is the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: The Prime Minister made this statement while standing with a sign that said stop the boats. What's that mean?

SUMPTION: So the background to all of this is that over the last few years, people have started coming to the U.K. without permission in small boats - basically rubber dinghies with about 50 people crammed onto each one - across the channel from France. And the numbers of people who've been doing that have increased substantially to around 45,000 last year. And this has created a lot of anxiety, and the government is under a lot of pressure to stop people from arriving in this way that was never a thing in the past and has become quite dominant in British politics. So the idea of the policy is to try and create some kind of deterrent to stop people from wanting to come to the U.K. to claim asylum, 'cause that's what - the main reason that people are coming here is to put in asylum claims, effectively applying for refugee status.

INSKEEP: And the deterrent is you don't get to stay, you get sent to Rwanda. What happens? You get put in a plane and you just have to live in Rwanda? Is that the deal?

SUMPTION: Yeah. So the idea is that people will be sent to Rwanda, and Rwanda will process their asylum claim and give them status there, and they would never be able to come back to the U.K. I should clarify, though, that it's very unclear how many people would actually be sent. There's - the government has been a little bit cagey about the precise numbers, but it's quite possible that actually only a relatively small people - small share of people will be sent back to Rwanda, in which case it might be that most people who come across the channel in small boats do actually still get to remain in the U.K.

INSKEEP: How would it then be a deterrent?

SUMPTION: Well, that's the big question. And I think a lot of that - there's a huge amount of uncertainty. I think probably it would be the case - if a large share of people were sent to Rwanda, I think probably it would have some deterrent. One of the problems, though, is that actually some of the people who come across are not very well informed about what the policies even are. And research from other settings where governments have tried to deter asylum seekers has often found that these deterrent policies are not as effective as governments hope. So I think there's a huge amount of uncertainty about what the deterrent effect will be, if any, but it is certainly very possible that the policy won't work in the way the government hopes.

INSKEEP: Well, assuming that some people are sent to Rwanda, the U.K. Supreme Court, the top court, has already ruled that Rwanda is not safe for migrants to be sent there. But the government just says it's fine.

SUMPTION: Well, the government has passed legislation declaring Rwanda to be safe, and so that will effectively prevent the courts from weighing in on it again. That is quite an unusual move, and lawyers here say they've never seen anything like it.

INSKEEP: Madeleine Sumption at Oxford University's Migration Observatory. Thanks so much for the time.

SUMPTION: You're welcome.


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