I'm completely relaxed about people being removed from Rwanda. [sic] Many countries around Europe including Denmark, other countries in the European Union do it.
During an appearance on the BBC's Politics Live show on 14 March 2023, Conservative MP Sir Jake Berry claimed that Denmark and other countries in the European Union had already implemented schemes to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, as the UK is proposing to do.
We have assumed from the context of the conversation that Sir Jake meant to talk about people being removed “to” Rwanda.
However, Denmark is not currently sending asylum seekers to Rwanda and neither is any other EU country.
Although in 2021 Denmark passed a law that would enable it to send asylum seekers to a third country for processing, no deportations have ever taken place.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) confirmed to Full Fact that no other European country has deported refugees to Rwanda from inside the EU.
The EU does provide funding for a scheme that takes vulnerable asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda, but this does not operate inside the EU itself.
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In 2021, the Danish 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 initiative was criticised by organisations including the Danish Refugee Council and the United Nations. The scheme is no longer being pursued in the same form, although it might be revived as a collaboration with other European countries.
Dr Peter William Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford told Full Fact: “Denmark was the first EU country to pursue a policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, and the UK may have taken its lead from them.
“Denmark signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda in April 2021–a year before the UK did–on Cooperation Regarding Asylum and Migration Issues. However, legal commentators have described the agreement as non-binding and as not actually “providing for the transfer of asylum seekers from Denmark to Rwanda”–though it could be a precursor to such a policy.
“But no asylum seeker has been sent there, and Danish media reports suggest the new government, headed by the Social Democrats, has abandoned the idea.”
Emergency Transit Mechanism
During a debate at the House of Commons on 19 April 2022, the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said that both the UNHCR and the EU had resettled asylum seekers in Rwanda.
The Home Office has since confirmed that Ms Patel was referring to the Emergency Transit Mechanism, a scheme, funded by the EU and operated by UNHCR, which 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 ones proposed by the UK and Denmark, as Libya is not considered a safe country for refugees due to ongoing political instability. 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 many 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.
By the end of October 2022, 1,279 people had been removed from Libya under the scheme. However, the majority have since left Rwanda and travelled elsewhere. “As of the end of October 2022, 512 refugees and asylum seekers are accommodated at the ETM. 786 refugees have departed the ETM, through resettlement to third countries including Norway, Sweden, Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Finland.”
A similar scheme operates between Libya and Niger.
While the UNHCR supports the EMT, it has described the proposed UK deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as “unlawful and incompatible with the Refugee Convention.”
Therefore, while it is true that EU countries (including Denmark) are helping to send a small number of refugees or asylum seekers to Rwanda, the EMT scheme operates only in Libya and is not the same as the scheme being proposed by the UK Government.
We have contacted Sir Jake to ask about these claims and will update this article if we receive a response.