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Europe is copying Britain’s Rwanda policy

The European Union has tried to prevent migrant boats from reaching the continent's shores. Credit: Getty

November 3, 2023 - 6:45pm

A year after it was first announced, the British Government’s Rwanda plan remains bogged down in the courts. But as the legal tussle continues furiously in London, other European countries may be moving ahead with their own version of offshore processing as an answer to the refugee crisis.

Earlier this week, Christian Dürr, parliamentary leader of Germany’s Free Democratic Party, which belongs to the governing coalition, said that his party supported the idea of processing asylum seekers in countries outside of the EU. He justified his stance on humanitarian grounds — it would prevent hopeless applicants from making the risky journey across the Mediterranean. The German government is holding a federal-state summit on asylum policy next week, where the proposal could gain traction.

Then, on Thursday, Austria announced its own Rwanda-inspired deportation scheme, having struck a deal to cooperate with the UK. The plan would differ from Britain’s insofar as migrants deported to a third country would be able to return to Austria if their asylum applications were successful.

The potential change of heart in Germany is especially noteworthy, given the country’s previous approach to the influx of refugees in Europe, symbolised by Angela Merkel’s now-infamous exhortation that “we’ll cope”. The numbers tell another story: last year, Germany welcomed a million displaced Ukrainians and a quarter of a million asylum seekers from elsewhere. Increasingly, the feeling is that, despite its best intentions, Germany cannot in fact cope anymore.

Germany and Austria are not the first countries on the continent to turn to the offshoring of refugees, an idea which has long been discussed in European Union circles. In 2021, Denmark enacted legislation allowing for the processing of asylum seekers outside of the European Union, and opened an office in Rwanda last year in anticipation of sending refugees there, though no one has yet been sent over.

The Danish Rwanda plan has received far less international opprobrium than the UK’s, not least because British politics, like America’s, has become a sort of global newstainment. But the idea remains the same: to fulfil the country’s obligations under international law in relation to refugees by offloading them onto a third country, along with a hefty cash payment.

Cynical as this may seem, offshoring asylum seekers might actually be more humane than more covert forms of asylum externalisation, such as the European Union-backed Libyan Coast Guard. This body is subsidised by the bloc to stop migrant boats from crossing the Mediterranean — by force if necessary — and hence asylum seekers from landing in Europe, at which point they have to be dealt with in-country.

Offshoring processing, by contrast, is more upfront about what it seeks to achieve, namely keeping asylum seekers away, which explains why it tends to receive more coverage than the often violent — but unwitnessed — happenings in the Mediterranean. 

Whether any of this will work remains the outstanding question. In June, Australia, which pioneered offshore processing, moved out the last asylum seekers who were being kept in Nauru, the barren island state which served as Australia’s own Rwanda, alongside Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Critics of the policy naturally saw in the gesture an admission of failure, though the Australian government is paying a hefty sum to keep the Nauru facility on standby. But there is no denying that the number of irregular arrivals to Australia by sea is now virtually zero, whether as the result of offshore processing, turnbacks at sea, simply changing migratory patterns, or a mix of all three.

But Australia is far harder to reach by boat than Europe’s southern shores, so alluringly close to the north African coast. And all current offshore processing schemes rely on large payments to the recipient country, which makes their scalability questionable. Given the size of the influx of would-be refugees into Germany, a few thousand removals to Rwanda or elsewhere may not end up making much of a difference.


Yuan Yi Zhu is an assistant professor at Leiden University and a research fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford.

yuanyi_z

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Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago

“But but but but they way the Evil Tories were planning on doing it is just evil. We can guarantee that the Germans will be doing it with hand-hearts, kumbaya choirs, organic scarves and lots of camera-friendly mooing about how awful [other] humans are”.

Last edited 8 months ago by Paul T
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

Germany and Austria are processing migrants offshore
An impressive feat, given that Austria is a landlocked country.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago

A Minister in the Blair Government once insisted to me that Captain von Trapp could never really have existed, as Austria was a landlocked country.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Did you ever notice that Austria is completely surrounded by land, while Australia is completely surrounded by water? Think about it!

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago

Woah dude, mind blown!

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Prior to 1918 the Austrian Riviera was a thing

Peter B
Peter B
8 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

And Hungary’s leader after WWI was Admiral Horthy.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Indeed. No wonder he was so annoyed.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Name, we want a name! Who is this ignoramus?
I visited Trieste this summer. Lots of impressive Hapsburg empire architecture plus Italian wine and gelato. I recommend it.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago

My late uncle did his National Service there. He remained enchanted with the place to his dying day.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago

Offshore does not mean “at sea” or didn’t you realise that?

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul T

To everyone on this whole offshoot, a massive thank you. I took it all very lighthearted and had little chuckle.
If you look at a map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WW1, you will see quite a coastline. Captain Von Trapp was a WW1 sub commander, and very successful I might add.
As for the ‘offshore’ reference, you don’t need a coastline for that. It may be a little confusing but at least it is a conversation starter

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago

No one has ever been sent to Rwanda.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

And you’d imagine in such countries that such policies would be enacted immediately rather than being obstructed by a British judicial 5th column.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

I think the problem with the Rwanda policy is that it was so badly thought-through, especially given the fairly recent history of that country which would cause many people to recoil, even if that’s now unfair in terms of any progress made since the genocide carried out by the Hutu tribe towards the Tutsis in the mid90s.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

True, but pursuing the Rwanda option allows the govt. to build a legal path to offshoring somewhere – if not Rwanda.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Agree with you both IB & SM – the principle of offshore efficient and humane processing somewhere safe is entirely defendable. The difficulty has been having a competent Govt that actually properly plans and manages Policy, and finding somewhere that meets this without getting ripped off in the process too. Rwanda, and some other Countries, can be run by politicians who know how to ‘milk the cow’ as one of the Rwandan politicians said.
Of course there some overseas British territories but we avoided those due to concern about the applicability then of UK law, the local reaction and the need to first develop some infrastructure. But in theory resolvable issues and then at least the risk of corruption fleecing us reduces. Longer term this might prove better. But in truth none of this is simple.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson
Peter B
Peter B
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

And agree with you for a change JW !
As so often in politics, we arrive at a point where the existing policy no longer works and something new is required.
It’s been clear for some years that the post-WWII consensus on handling migrants and aslyum seekers has run out of road. We need to establish some basic principles on which to construct a new framework.
But we get bogged down in objections about details and this becomes a cover for doing nothing and ignoring the problems. The opponents of change often get away without having to propose alternative and better solutions.
Eventually the dam breaks and someone comes along and forces through the change. But without concensus.
I hold the opponents and critics of change at least as responsible (or rather irresponsible) as the government. Much as many on the left still blame Mrs Thatcher when their own inaction made her rise inevitable.

Peter D
Peter D
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Spot on Peter!
Politics has sunk down to opposition for opposition sake. It has been forgotten on both sides that being in opposition does not mean that you block anything and everything. The government of the day puts forth ideas and legislation and the opposition files away the crap and sharpens the edges. Then the upper house goes and does the same thing. In the end you end up with a sharp piece of quality legislation that functions.
Both sides are guilty of being incompetent and blocking more than just the crap.
Also, the refugee concept is completely broken and needs to be totally abandoned. If the West did not offer such generous incentives, none would come. There has been so many add-ons over the decades that the concept is no longer workable and resembles a monstrosity. The whole concept of refugees is not about making guilt-ridden left wing white people better about themselves.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter D

Over simplistic PD and (and not directed at you but more generally) a Populist politicians rant, even if some frustrations justified, does not a problem solve.
You’ve some big sweeping conclusions there too, which many may echo, but nothing on the subsequent practical Policy and application. Herein lies the fundamental problem IMO – Populism likes to suggest simple solutions to complex problems and then when that level of infantalism unravels looks to find someone to blame. It’s a childish reflex. At some point we have to grow up and grapple with the complexity of how we make our desires actually happen.
We can agree on the frustration, but it can’t stop there.
Recent Public surveys show a more rounded view on immigration, and to some degree asylum seeking. What seems evident is the public now wants some competency in Policy formulation and delivery.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Something different must be done – on that we do agree. The question is then what is a sensible, practical, well thought through approach? Here I think the Populist reflex drifts into slogans and would rather not sully itself with detail and detailed planning. Winning an argument does not tackle the problem. It may be a start but it can’t finish there and unfortunately I fear for too many it does indeed finish there.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson
Frances Burger
Frances Burger
8 months ago

Curious: How is this different from the infamously heartless Remain in Mexico program?

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
8 months ago

“He justified his stance on humanitarian grounds — it would prevent hopeless applicants from making the risky journey across the Mediterranean…
Mmm. Gosh. I’ve been saying this for years. I also used to have a reputation for getting things done. I wonder if I should be in charge of the Home Office.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago

Contrary to the UK, Denmark has avoided effective international attention of its Rwanda deal because the entire political spectrum from right to left has supported it, Not because it went under the international media radar as this article seems to say. The Danish approach has gathered international approbrium both amongst irregular refugees and in the Arab world. It is the united political front within Denmark which has neutered the ability of activists and international actors to stir the pot.