UK's Rwanda asylum plan criticised for ignoring climate threats
Migrants arrive at Dover harbour on board a Border Force vessel, after being rescued while attempting to cross the English Channel, in Dover, Britain, August 24, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Britain's interior ministry failed to assess the climate threats posed to thousands of asylum seekers it plans to send to Rwanda, international charity Christian Aid said, just as London's High Court permitted the controversial policy to go ahead
- Rwanda highly vulnerable to climate hazards such as floods
- Britain's Home Office did not consider risks to deportees
- Campaigners say Rwanda is unsuitable for asylum seekers
The British government failed to assess the climate threats posed to tens of thousands of asylum seekers it plans to send to Rwanda, the charity Christian Aid has said, as London's High Court ruled the controversial deportation policy was lawful.
Under a deal with Rwanda struck in April, Britain intends to relocate people who arrive on its shores illegally to the East African nation, more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away.
Christian Aid said that despite Rwanda's acute vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, Britain's Home Office (interior ministry) had not conducted an assessment of the climate risks the asylum seekers could face if sent there.
This was despite the fact that Britain's foreign office published a report this year highlighting numerous climate-linked threats already affecting Rwanda and forecasting that these would worsen in coming years, according to the charity.
These include risks to food security due to soil erosion caused by heavy rainfall, health threats linked to higher temperatures and the increased spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria.
"Any basic research into the climate dangers posed to Rwanda would have found warnings ... which show that the country is unsuitable for vulnerable people in need of support to build a safe and prosperous life," a Christian Aid spokesperson told Context.
Christian Aid said a Freedom of Information (FOI) request had established that the Home Office did not hold any details on climate risk assessments for deportees being sent to Rwanda.
A Home Office spokesperson said the 120-million-pound ($146-million) deal was "ground-breaking" and asylum seekers would be given the necessary assistance to rebuild their lives in Rwanda.
"Rwanda is a safe country with a track record of supporting refugees," the spokesperson said by email.
"The UK government already works extensively with the Government of Rwanda to help mitigate the impacts of climate change and to develop new green solutions for the future."
At least 40,000 migrants have arrived in Britain on small boats this year - a record figure - government data shows, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made tackling the issue a priority, amid opposition from politicians across the spectrum.
Rwanda - a small, mountainous nation of 13 million - is highly vulnerable to climate change and since the early 2000s, the frequency and severity of weather-related disasters such as floods and droughts have increased, the World Bank says.
According to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, which ranks 182 countries based on their climate vulnerability, Rwanda is the joint-tenth most at-risk nation in the world.
Since it was announced, the deportation deal has sparked criticism - including from the United Nations and the Church of England - and faced legal challenges from human rights groups.
John Sentamu, former Archbishop of York and chair of Christian Aid, has described the policy as "a shameful moral failure".
The first planned deportation flight was blocked in June by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the strategy's lawfulness was subsequently challenged by a judicial review at London's High Court.
However, on Monday, the court ruled that it was lawful for Britain to make arrangements with the Rwandan government to send asylum seekers to the country to determine their claims there.
Mohamed Adow, director of Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, said the Home Office's failure to consider the climate change implications of the deal was "especially worrying."
"If the UK wants to claim to understand climate change, let alone be a leader on it, it needs to have more understanding of its impact across the world," he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Megan Rowling.)
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