Rishi Sunak’s best alternatives to Rwanda – and how feasible they would be

Sunak defends new Rwanda plan

Announcing his latest deal to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda, Rishi Sunak made it clear that the new treaty signed with the African country, and new domestic legislation, is as far as the Government can go.

Despite demands from hardline right-wing Tory MPs for the Government to go further and rule any way for migrants set to be deported from appealing their fate, Mr Sunak has said Rwanda would not allow the UK to continue with its deal if it broke human rights laws.

At his Downing Street press conference, Mr Sunak said the difference between his new policy and those on the right of his party is just “an inch”, but that inch “is the difference between the Rwandans participating in this scheme and not”.

He said: “There’s no point having a piece of legislation that means you can’t actually send anyone anywhere – that’s not going to help anyone.”

Many on the right believe that the Government’s current Bill will make little difference to the success of the scheme, meaning once again people are questioning what alternative policies to stop the boats the Government could pursue.

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Alternative countries

The main reason the Supreme Court ruled the Government’s current Rwanda policy unlawful was over concerns about how migrants would be treated once they’ve been sent there.

The Supreme Court argued there were substantial grounds to believe that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda risk ill-treatment or being “refouled” whereby their claims are rejected and they are sent back to their home country, which may be dangerous.

Given there are concerns about Rwanda’s domestic processes and being out of the UK Government’s hands, alternative places for deportation have regularly been floated.

They include Ascension Island between South America and Africa, the Falkland Islands, or even the Orkney Islands as advocated by Lee Anderson.

The Government also scoped out other potential third countries alongside Rwanda when they were originally formulating the plan, however they were seen to be even less plausible.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the Ascension Island plan would have cost £1million per person sent there.

There was also pushback from the RAF, which jointly operates the only airport on the island alongside the US Space Force, who reportedly wanted “nothing to do with it”.

The Falklands was also considered, however, it would have led to just 30 migrants being deported in a six to 12-month period and would be equally liable to legal challenge.

More collaboration with France

Another alternative would be forcing the French to be more proactive and stop more boats from leaving their shores in the first place.

In August, ministers voiced frustration at France’s failure to stop boat crossings, with a policy of non-intervention once a vessel is at sea.

Rishi Sunak has already handed France £480million to put more officers on the ground, but there are concerns about how attentive the policing of the country’s coastline actually is.

French navy patrol vessels have also been regularly filmed actively escorting boats to British waters, at which point they become the UK’s problem.

In contrast, Belgium, which does safely intervene in the water, has largely ended small boat crossings from their shores.

There is no guarantee that more money to France would improve the quality of policing, however, especially while they maintain a policy of not dragging dinghies back to shore once they’ve set off.

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Leave the ECHR

This is the “nuclear” option, but one increasingly popular on the right, with Suella Braverman a leading proponent of the policy.

While at the Home Office, Ms Braverman was understood to want the UK to leave the ECHR in the long run, but derogate from it in the short term – in other words, break the rules without leaving the treaty.

Just last week, France ignored an ECHR ruling that banned the deportation of a radical Islamist to Uzbekistan, putting the man on a plane anyway.

Leaving the ECHR would unlock a great many solutions to the migrant crisis, however, is by far the most tricky and politically dangerous option.

It would likely require a referendum, or overt manifesto pledge in the Tories’ next manifesto to happen, and many within the Tory party would bork at the idea of departing the convention after over 70 years of membership.

An Australia-style ‘push back’ policy

In 2013 Australia faced a very similar small boats crisis to the UK, with 20,000 migrants making the perilous journey from countries like Indonesia, Iran and Sri Lanka, with many dying while attempting to cross.

During that year’s election, the right-wing Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott promised a new “Operation Sovereign Borders” policy, under which migrant boats would be intercepted and either returned to where they travelled from or taken to overseas island detention centres.

While human rights groups – including the UN – slammed the policy as a “cruel and deadly practice” that violates international law, it worked wonders.

In 2014 the number of migrant arrivals in Australia fell to 160, and in 2015 all the way to zero.

However, it wouldn’t be possible to wholly copy Australia’s policy in Britain.

They rely heavily on the cooperation of third countries in the Asia-Pacific, who take a different attitude than Britain’s European neighbours.

Australia also has a much wider sea border, allowing greater time for boats to be intercepted compared to the short English Channel.

Thirdly Australia’s intervention to stop the boats came in when arrivals peaked below 20,000, significantly fewer than Britain is currently seeing every year.

The policy may also have to be done in tandem with leaving the ECHR.

Labour’s policy

While Rishi Sunak has said Labour doesn’t have a policy to stop small boat arrivals, Sir Keir Starmer’s party has put forward a plan.

Labour has pledged to negotiate returns agreements with EU countries to send back “some” failed asylum seekers.

However the Tories claim this would require taking up to 100,000 illegal migrants from the EU in return under an EU quota scheme.

Yvette Cooper said this claim is “garbage” as Britain is not an EU member.

Labour has also said they will recruit 1,000 new caseworkers to clear the asylum backlog, and fast-track applications from “safe” countries like Albania and India.

However many of the applications would result in asylum being granted, meaning numbers wouldn’t come down but the migrants would move out of hotels and into local communities.

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