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The Rwanda plan is shaping Europe’s migration debate

Rishi Sunak meets Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Vienna yesterday. Credit: Getty

May 22, 2024 - 10:00am

Opponents of the UK’s Rwanda scheme cast it as a “national obscenity”, decrying “the horror of what we are now”. Yet, unexpectedly for some, the plan is finding international support. EU countries feeling the effects of mass illegal immigration are looking on with growing admiration at the UK’s approach.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer endorsed the Rwanda plan in a meeting with Rishi Sunak yesterday, saying that carrying out asylum procedures in safe third countries would “save human lives” by striking a blow against people smugglers. Nehammer called for similar deals to be “put on the EU’s agenda”, describing the UK as a “pioneer” of this new approach.

Sunak, in turn, praised Austria for being “right on this issue for a long time”. Last week, Austria’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner claimed the country’s tough stance, with increased border controls and expedited asylum claim processes, has led to an overall decrease in the number of illegal immigrants entering the country. A situation in which “the majority of those arriving were single men” has finally been stopped, he added.

This isn’t the first time that the Rwanda plan has won admiration from within the EU. Last year, Hungary’s then-Justice Minister Judit Varga commended the Tories’ “brave” decision to “think outside the box”, while Denmark has toyed with the possibility of a similar scheme of its own. The European Commission has been critical of these countries’ individual measures to tackle illegal immigration, however, and it has long seemed that any appetite for an EU-wide Rwanda-style deal would be unable to overcome opposition in Brussels.

Yet this could change after European Parliament elections in early June. A Right-wing surge is predicted, with migration a key issue in campaigning. Discontent with current EU migration policy is persistent despite the European Parliament passing a vaunted new Migration Pact in April. A letter made public last week, signed by 15 countries including Austria, calls for an “outsourcing” of migration policy, urging the EU to switch focus “from managing irregular migration in Europe to supporting refugees as well as host communities in regions of origin”.

The implicit recognition — the same recognition which underpins the UK’s Rwanda deal — is that raising the prospect of illegal immigrants ending up in countries where they do not want to go may be the only way to cut off migration flows to places where they do want to go. The EU’s longtime preoccupation with internal redistribution of asylum seekers, on the other hand, fails to tackle the root cause of these illegal immigration flows.

This interpretation is slowly influencing EU decision-makers spooked by the Right-wing poll shift. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has struck deals with North African states, providing EU money in exchange for assistance in stemming migrant flows. This month, it was claimed that EU funds have been used to pay units involved in brutal migrant “desert dumps” in Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.

If EU elections go as expected, calls for a further strengthening of the bloc’s migration policy will be inevitable, and Austria’s wish for a Rwanda-style deal to be put on the EU agenda will become realistic — especially with Hungary assuming the EU’s rotating presidency in July. Brexit has, in more ways than one, allowed Britain to “think outside the box” on this issue, and if a Right-wing swing in the EU does materialise, the Rwanda precedent may set the stage for a new phase of the continent’s migration debate.


William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz

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Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

The proposed implementation (the “Rwanda plan”) may be rather wanting. But it has at least flagged the vital importance of *doing something*. This is a problem that’s not going to go away – it will only get worse if not addressed.
Of course, there are plenty of cowardly politicians only too keen to hide behind someone else making the first move and taking all the flak for them. As this unfolding story demonstrates.
Probably shouldn’t say anything too rude about the Austrians or I may have Katherine E on my case.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

You won’t have Katherine E on your case. But KathArine Eyre might get after you if you don’t spell her name right 😉

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

For a long time, Nehammer and Karner were very cagey about saying anything positive about Britain or the Rwanda policy, preferring to highlight their meetings and cooperation with Denmark. Probably the lingering political minefield around Brexit but also just hanging back, seeing how the UK fares before jumping on the bandwagon. As ever with Austria, this approach can be seen as pragmatic or cowardly herd behaviour, depending on how you look at it.
Well, the majority of people arriving may no longer be young single men. But that problem has been replaced by pressures on infrastructure and resources caused by increasing family reunions. The school system in Vienna is creaking already, I honestly don’t know how this is going to work. Once again, I’m glad I don’t have kids.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

In other words it is little different to how smaller EU countries, unhappy with how Germany was running the EU to the entire satisfaction of France, behaved when Britain was still part of the EU.

Ian_S
Ian_S
1 month ago

Australia pioneered offshore detention and processing years ago. And also strengthened migration processing in the next country up the chain, Indonesia; and, additionally, with migrants en route turned back. The wailing and howling from “human rights” (i.e. open borders) lawyers and all the usual dorks was immense. But, under a no-nonsense conservative government at that time, illegal migration was halted. It’s been done before. The precedent is there already.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

You mean if you send people trying to get to the EU to somewhere else besides the EU, they’ll stop trying to get to the EU, because they’ll know they won’t get there. What a shocking assertion. Who would have thought? This sounds like a decent solution really. It doesn’t solve the problem of the illegals already there, but it at least might staunch the flow. Probably would have been better if they’d come up with it ten years ago. What I’m wondering is who are these unnamed third countries and how much the UK’s government is paying them to take on these unwanted migrants.
The US is not as nice as Europe. We play dirty. Here, the governor of Texas just sends the immigrants to liberal stronghold cities whether the cities want them or not (they don’t) to spite and enrage the liberal voters who empower open borders policy. Quite a more confrontational approach, but this is America.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Unfortunately sending to liberal cities doesn’t actually stop the influx… but It is highly amusing
maybe we (England) should try sending them to Scotland..lol.. or even Dublin lol

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

It is, and hey, the politicians from New York, Chicago, LA, etc. say they welcome immigrants and support the poor huddled masses yearning to breath free. From that perspective, the Texas governor is just helping them out. The fact they almost immediately started complaining highlights the hypocrisy and duplicitous nature of the open borders crowd.

Mister Smith
Mister Smith
1 month ago

In my opinion, the Rwanda option is fair and humane. True asylum seekers, those fleeing actual war zones or religious persecution, would be grateful for anything to alleviate their plight. This option additionally cuts the massive cash flow taken in by criminal smugglers. Also, the young male economic opportunists who currently comprise 70% of our “immigrants” won’t come, as a detour to Rwanda won’t be to their liking.