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UK Pushes Forward With Rwanda One-Way Deportations

Two police officers walk near a Boeing 767 sitting on a runway at a military base in Amesbury, Salisbury, on 6.14.2022 preparing to take asylum-seekers to Rwanda. After a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, Britain canceled that flight.

Governments across the world are wrestling with how to deal with an influx of refugees fleeing war-torn or persecuting in their homelands. Britain is the latest country to attempt to outsource asylum seekers. But a public outcry about the "Rwanda One-Way" deportations arose that stopped flights.

Britain has portrayed its policy as humane, saying it will smash the business model of the people smugglers and end the emergency which has seen at least 166 people die or go missing, with 27 drowning in the worst accident in November.

But it has attracted widespread criticism - from lawmakers across the political divide, the United Nations and even heir to the throne Prince Charles - while the European Court of Human Rights issued injunctions to force the cancellation of the first deportation flight hours before it was due to leave in June.

The policy is also dwarfed by the scale of the challenge.

So far Rwanda has also only set up one hostel to accept UK arrivals, with capacity for about 100 people, representing 0.35% of all the migrants who arrived in Britain last year.

A British official said the government was in talks to acquire another three or four hostels in Kigali, but even those would only provide accommodation for about 1.6% of last year's arrivals.

In the meantime, the asylum seekers keep arriving, with 696 on Aug. 1 alone. A report by parliament's cross-party home affairs committee said last month that there was no evidence the Rwanda policy was deterring asylum seekers.

The numbers have been rising for several years.

In 2021, 28,526 people were detected arriving on small boats - with the highest number from Iran followed by Iraq, Eritrea and Syria. That was up from 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019, and 299 in 2018, contributing to the 1.5 billion pound ($1.83 billion) annual cost of running Britain's asylum system.

A spokesperson for the UK government described the situation as "unacceptable" and insisted the strategy was needed to stop people "making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys".

Britain argues that 90% of the asylum seekers who make the journey are men, many of them economic migrants rather than genuine refugees.

At the Hope Hostel in Kigali, arrivals are greeted with a sign in English reading "Come as a guest, leave as a friend".

"As you can see, people will find it very comfortable here," manager Elisee Kalyango said of his hostel, perched on a hillside on the outskirts of the city, with its signs printed in English, Arabic, Farsi and Albanian.

The plan is for deportees to spend nine months there, on a monthly allowance of about 90 pounds, while having their asylum applications considered before being moved to permanent housing in Rwanda.

Housed in a detention center in southern England, a man calling himself "Aladeen" says he risked his life to travel thousands of miles from his homeland of Syria to escape being forced to fight in the military of President Bashar al-Assad.

Now the 21-year-old is battling to stay in Britain and avoid being sent across the world again, this time to Rwanda where the British government wants to send migrants who turn up illegally on its shores.

The Rwandan scheme is intended to deter people like Aladeen from making hazardous journeys to Britain and to end people-smuggling.

With five brothers and two sisters, Aladeen says he didn't know about the Rwanda policy before he left. He says he was a farmer who had to flee when he was conscripted into the Syrian military.

Aladeen, one of about 130 migrants initially given a ticket to Rwanda and now left in legal limbo, is caught in the British government's struggle to control its borders and manage voters' post-Brexit migration demands.

He is among more than 20,000 migrants to have made the precarious 20-mile journey from France to Britain this year on small boats across the English Channel, crossing one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

"It's the end of the world for me, I can't imagine it," he told Reuters by phone through an interpreter and declining to give his full name while his asylum claim is considered.