Botswana rejects UK’s asylum agreement proposal

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a press conference at Downing Street in London, Britain, April 22, 2024. Photographer Toby Melville/Credit Reuters

By Voice of America

Authorities in Botswana say they recently received proposals from the United Kingdom to send asylum seekers to the country. However, Gaborone rejected the deal.

In a bid to address increased illegal migration, the United Kingdom turned to proposals of sending asylum seekers to Africa, a deal which some British lawmakers say will benefit the host nations.

To date, Rwanda is the only African country that has agreed to the UK’s proposals.

The deal is scheduled to start in 10-12 weeks, according to Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Officials in Botswana say Sunak’s government attempted to extend a similar deal to the southern African nation as the one struck with Rwanda.

British authorities reached out, but Botswana could not commit to “hosting people not knowing what the end game would be,” Lemogang Kwape, the country’s Foreign Affairs minister, told VOA.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) NGO Working Group, an umbrella of civil society organisations, supports Gaborone’s position on the UK’s asylum proposal.

Kutlwano Relontle, UPR’s program manager, says the coalition “calls on the government of Botswana and other countries to distance themselves from this controversial UK program, which appears to be aimed at protecting only some of those who are fleeing their countries on the basis of fear of persecution, and not others.”

“We noted that in the case of the conflict in Ukraine, those seeking asylum were fast-tracked into the system, and citizens even encouraged to host them in their homes,” Relontle added.

British authorities say the number of migrants crossing the channel in small boats has soared in recent years as people continue to flee war, the effects of climate change and economic uncertainty.

Official data shows that 45,774 migrants arrived in Britain in 2022 on small boats. The figure dropped to 29,437 last year as the government cracked down on people smugglers and reached an agreement to return Albanians to their home country.

Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy in the UK, says under the Rwanda arrangement, some deserving asylum-seekers will be turned away.

“There is a general view that the small boats crisis needs to be resolved, [as] that it is very dangerous and unacceptable for people to be arriving in such numbers across the channel, but that does not mean that the majority of the population want to send people, particularly people who would have a claim to refugee status, to Rwanda,” he told VOA.

The economics and policy expert said he is not surprised that Botswana turned down the UK’s proposal, particularly after it came under heavy criticism from the UN and other human rights groups.

Britain has already paid Rwanda £220 million as part of the agreement to host the deported asylum seekers. Sunak’s government has also agreed to pay the country an extra 150 million pounds over the next three years, and £120 million once the first 300 asylum seekers have been resettled, according to the National Audit Office (Nao).