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Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy

In World
April 24, 2024

ROME (AP) — Britain’s home secretary on Tuesday touted Britain’s migrant deportation deal with Rwanda as a “new and creative” deterrent to an old and growing problem. But he 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 to enable the government to deport some people to Rwanda who enter Britain illegally.

The deal, in which Britain will pay Rwanda to process the migrants, is aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel from France. It is similar in some basic aspects to Italy’s controversial pact 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. He said Britain will not tolerate people smugglers determining who arrives on British soil.

“People-smuggling mass migration has changed (and) I think demands us to be constantly innovating,” he told a gathering at the Institute of International Affairs, a Rome-based think tank.

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 when asked about the UNHCR criticism. “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.

Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland and is often the destination of choice for migrants, whose numbers reached 157,652 new arrivals in Italy last year.

The numbers arriving in Italy so far this year are actually way down, presumably thanks to Italy’s European Union-endorsed agreement with Tunisia to stem departures. As of Tuesday, 16,090 migrants had arrived by sea in Italy so far this year, compared to 36,324 in this period last year.

Spain has actually outpaced Italy so far this year in terms of migrant sea arrivals, with 16,621 arriving this year as of April 15, the last available date.

In Britain, the numbers pale in comparison to the southern Mediterranean, even during peak periods: In 2022, the number of people arriving in Britain from across the Channel reached 45,774, though last year the number dropped to 29,437.

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