Are other countries copying the UK’s Rwanda plan?

29 January 2024
What was claimed

A surprisingly large number of countries have copied the UK's Rwanda plan.

Our verdict

This is not quite right. Although other countries have expressed an interest in processing asylum seekers in a third country, none of those mentioned in a recent article have so far implemented such schemes, and none are planning to adopt the equivalent of the UK’s Rwanda model.

Earlier this month, the headline of an article in the HuffPost, now corrected, claimed that “a surprisingly large number of countries have copied [the] UK's Rwanda plan.”

This is not quite right. Although the countries mentioned in the article—Austria, Italy, Germany and Denmark—have explored the option of using a third country for processing asylum seekers with a view to determining their right to move to those countries, the UK’s proposed Rwanda scheme goes further than this, as it removes asylum seekers’ rights to seek asylum in the UK. 

The article also mentions the Emergency Transit System which removes asylum seekers from Libya and transports them to Rwanda. This scheme is funded by the EU and is very different to the proposals being put forward by the UK.

Full Fact contacted the HuffPost and the headline of the article has since been amended to say that some other countries “could copy” the UK scheme. We are grateful to the HuffPost for making this change. 

We have previously written fact checks on claims that other European countries are already sending or considering sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

If headlines are inaccurate or don’t reflect the body of the article, it is possible that people will be misled as it may be the only part of an article that people read. Headline-writers should ensure headlines are accurate and support the body of the article.

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UK scheme explained

Under laws passed by the government in 2022, asylum seekers who arrive in the country illegally could be sent to Rwanda to have their claims processed there. Those whose claims are approved would be granted refugee status in Rwanda and allowed to stay. 

Those who were unsuccessful would be able to apply to settle in Rwanda on other grounds, or seek asylum in another “safe third country”. They would not be able to return to the UK, even if their asylum claims were deemed valid. 

The policy has faced a number of challenges, including a ruling by the UK Supreme Court that the Rwanda policy is unlawful. The government is attempting to overcome this by passing a bill which confirms that Rwanda is safe. 

Other schemes

Last November, Austria signed a statement with the UK agreeing to closer cooperation on tackling illegal migration and terrorism, with the Austrian government reportedly keen to explore options for processing asylum claims outside the EU. 

However, Austria’s offshoring scheme would differ from the UK’s in that people deported to a third country would be allowed to return to Austria if their asylum applications were successful. Those rejected would be returned to their home countries.

That same month, Italy announced plans to build centres in Albania to house migrants rescued at sea by Italian boats, while Italy processed their asylum claims.

Similar to the Austrian model, these asylum seekers would still have their claims processed by Italy, and would be transferred back to Italy were their claim to be approved. The Italian authorities would also be responsible for relocating asylum seekers sent to Albania whose cases are rejected. This isn’t the equivalent to the UK’s Rwanda policy.

However, the proposals have since been blocked by the Albanian constitutional court and are now subject to legal proceedings. 

Last year German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his government will “examine whether the protection status of refugees can also be determined in transit or third countries in the future, in compliance with the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights”. 

We are not aware that any specific plans have been confirmed. It is unclear whether successful applicants could then proceed to Germany or would have to stay in the third country in which their claim was processed. Chancellor Scholz was also said to be “sceptical” whether this would be legally possible. 

In the case of Denmark, in 2021 the government passed a law that enabled it to send asylum seekers to a country outside Europe—later revealed to be Rwanda—while their cases are under review. The announcement pre-dates the UK’s scheme which was not announced until the following April. This means Denmark cannot be said to be ‘copying’ the UK scheme. 

No asylum seekers were ever sent and the scheme is no longer being pursued in its original form. Danish minister of immigration and integration, Kaare Dybvad Bek, told Reuters last November: “It remains the government’s goal to relocate asylum processing to a partner country in collaboration with the EU.”

Emergency Transit Mechanism

The Emergency Transit Mechanism (EMT), a scheme funded by the EU and operated by UNHCR, takes asylum seekers being held in detention centres in Libya—a major transit route for refugees hoping to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea—and transports them to Rwanda.

However, this scheme differs from the one proposed by the UK as the individuals concerned do not wish to remain in Libya, where the high level of political instability means asylum seekers face risks to their personal safety. 

Flights taking vulnerable individuals from Libya to Rwanda are described as ‘evacuations’ rather than deportations, and the UNHCR says the EMT is “life saving”, with some of those in Libya “facing major threats and inhumane conditions”. 

The EMT scheme is also voluntary, not compulsory, and is considered a temporary measure with those moved by the scheme given assistance to resettle elsewhere should they choose to do so. The UK scheme would be compulsory. 

Image courtesy of aboodi vesakaran.

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