Politicians have described Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as “evil” and “inhumane”, amid fierce criticism from refugee charities, which have said the move is ill-conceived.
The government is on Thursday expected to announce multimillion-pound plans for asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats to be flown for processing to Rwanda.
Ian Blackford, the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s just chilling, absolutely chilling, to think that people who are coming here for a whole host of reasons – vulnerable people – are going to be taken all the way to Africa to be processed.
“This is not the mark of a civilised society. It’s evil. It just turns my stomach to see that our government acting in our name can behave in such a way, and I think a lot of people are going to be quite aghast.”
Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield and a former chief whip, said the new approach was “globally unprecedented” and raised questions around how it would work and how the government would safeguard human rights.
He added: “MPs from across the house have already expressed concerns about adopting a policy which Australia abandoned as a failure.”
The first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, tweeted that the plans were “cruel and inhumane” and “a cynical distraction from the prime minister’s law-breaking”.
Defending the plan on Sky News, the Wales secretary, Simon Hart, said the estimated cost was “about £120m” and followed nine months of negotiation with the Rwandan government.
He said it would deter criminal gangs and reduce exploitation by making it no longer viable to smuggle vulnerable people into the UK.
On LBC, he said: “What we are proposing with the government of Rwanda is to improve the chances to break up the criminal gangs, to reduce the horrible level of exploitation and to improve the chances for people who have crossed half the world at huge emotional and personal and financial expense.
“At the moment, they are being put in dreadful danger by these ruthless people, and so I think what we are doing is really consistent with our reputation. We pride ourselves on this ‘nation of sanctuary’ label and I hope that this, when it’s up and running, will be able to reinforce that reputation.”
However, refugee and human rights charities have vehemently criticised the plans, warning they were unlikely to address the exploitation of vulnerable people.
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the government had violated the principle of the UN convention, of which the UK was a founding signatory, to “grant people a fair hearing on UK soil”.
Speaking on the Today programme, he said: “I think it’s rather extraordinary the government is obsessing with control instead of focusing on competence and compassion.”
He added the plan was unlikely to discourage people from undertaking dangerous journeys to flee persecution, and recommended instead that dialogue be opened with other European countries about how to encourage safe routes to asylum, including by allowing people to apply for visas in embassies around the world.
The chief executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton, accused the government of “offshoring its responsibilities on to Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.
He added that the UK should have learned from “Australia’s horrific experiment” of sending refugees to camps overseas where they experienced “rampant abuse” as well as “rape, murder and suicide”.
“This grubby cash-for-people plan would be a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat people fleeing persecution and war,” Naor Hilton said.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, noted that Rwanda had a “dismal human rights record”.
In a statement to the PA Media news agency, Valdez-Symonds said: “This shockingly ill-conceived idea will go far further in inflicting suffering while wasting huge amounts of public money.”