‘History proves’ Rwanda plan won’t work and UK must reconsider, says new UN human rights chief

High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk (AFP via Getty Images)

History has proven that relocating asylum seekers can lead to “profoundly inhumane” treatment, the new UN human rights chief has warned.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has urged the government to rethink its controversial plan for Rwanda.

He said the British government should “absolutely” reconsider its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after a High Court ruling on Monday ruled the controversial scheme legal.

The decision shocked refugee and human rights organizations, which said the Rwandan program will not end small boat crossings or ensure the safety of refugees.

The government “cannot relocate… responsibilities to another state in the manner envisaged,” Mr Türk told the Guardian, two months after taking office.

Speaking from Geneva, Mr Türk said “certainly…it’s not common sense” and called on the government to tone down its rhetoric about “illegal” migration.

He said he doubted “very much” that the Rwandan plan offers protection to asylum seekers while deterring those who do not need it.

Mr Türk highlighted human rights atrocities at Australia’s offshore treatment centers in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Manus Island center was closed after the Australian Supreme Court ruled it illegal.

“The way asylum seekers were treated in Nauru and Manus was deeply, deeply inhumane,” Türk told the Guardian.

The Home Office rejects any comparison with the Australian regime.

A spokesperson said the partnership with Rwanda will provide asylum seekers with “support to build new lives there, while disrupting the business model of smuggling gangs”.

“It was ruled lawful by the High Court on Monday and the Home Secretary has pledged to make it work to help prevent dangerous, illegal and unnecessary travel.

“Comparing this policy with the Australian model is fundamentally wrong and inaccurate; under our approach, people sent to Rwanda are not detained but relocated and are free to leave if they wish.

Rwanda will process requests in accordance with national and international human rights law. Under this model, asylum seekers are not detained or held in indefinite detention, and it is not the UK that would consider their claims.

The government has repeatedly asserted that Rwanda is a safe and secure country with a history of supporting asylum seekers.

The first deportation flight – which was due to take off on June 14 – was stalled amid a series of disputes over individual deportations and the policy as a whole.

Monday’s decision is expected to be challenged in the Court of Appeal, with a Supreme Court battle also possible, blocking flights until next year at the earliest.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Suella Braverman did not rule out using decommissioned cruise ships to house asylum seekers, saying “everything is on the table”.

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