As the UK attempts to move asylum seekers abroad, Ireland resists

Britain's recently ratified plan to put asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda has sparked objections from human rights groups, British and European courts, the House of Lords and even some members of the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Another injured party is added to this list: Ireland.

The Irish government said last week that asylum seekers in Britain who fear being deported to Rwanda are instead traveling to Ireland. He is drafting emergency legislation to send them back to Britain, sparking a row with his neighbor who has said he will refuse to accept them.

Irish officials estimate that 80% of recent asylum seekers entered the country through Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and with which the Republic of Ireland has an open border. This suggests that Britain's promise to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is already having some sort of deterrent effect, which was Sunak's way of selling the policy.

But this is to the detriment of Ireland, which is already struggling to absorb an influx of refugees from Ukraine and other countries, and has seen violent clashes over immigration break out in towns and cities alike. On Sunday, Ireland's prime minister, Simon Harris, said: “This country will in no way provide a loophole for anyone else's migration challenges.”

“Other countries can decide how they want to advance migration,” said Harris, who became prime minister earlier this month. “From an Irish perspective, we intend to have a robust rules-based system where the rules are in place, where the rules are in place, where the rules appear to be enforced.”

British officials, however, countered on Monday that they would not accept any asylum seekers from Ireland, a member of the European Union, unless they had a broader agreement with the EU to return them to France, another member of the EU, from where many refugees left for Britain on small boats across the English Channel.

“Of course we won't do that,” Sunak told ITV News about accepting returnees from Ireland. “I am determined to operationalize our project in Rwanda because I want a deterrent.” He added: “I make absolutely no apologies for doing everything I could to combat illegal immigration.”

Rwanda's politics have unexpectedly brought the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic back into the spotlight, echoing tensions between Britain and Ireland after Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016. The Republic of Ireland fought to maintain an open land border with Northern Ireland, which necessitated complex negotiations between London and Brussels over trade deals in the North.

After years of friction, Sunak reached a deal with the European Union last year, known as the Windsor Framework, that finally appeared to resolve the issue. But Britain's abrupt cancellation on Sunday of a meeting between the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, and the Irish Justice Minister, Helen McEntee, added to the sense of a new diplomatic crisis. A meeting of lower-level British and Irish officials produced only a vague agreement to “monitor the matter closely.”

“It's something that needs to be resolved, and I don't see any easy solution,” said Bobby McDonagh, the former Irish ambassador to Britain. “It is clearly not feasible if large numbers of refugees are crossing into the UK and coming down here via Northern Ireland.”

The problem is that political pressure from both sides is opposed to resolving the issue. For Sunak, who has lobbied for months against legal challenges to approve the Rwanda plan, the diversion of asylum seekers to Ireland is proof that his policies are working. Far from taking these people back, he has promised to round up thousands of those still in Britain and put them on planes to Rwanda.

Mr Harris, Dublin analysts say, is under pressure to act firmly because the growing number of asylum seekers, combined with Ireland's acute housing shortage, is causing social unrest. Last week, protesters in County Wicklow clashed with police over proposed refugee accommodation. Last fall, a riot rooted in anti-immigrant hatred rocked parts of Dublin.

“The protests have become increasingly ugly and violent, orchestrated by groups who see Ireland as fertile ground,” said Diarmaid Ferriter, a professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin. “Politicians are under pressure to be seen as doing more, and are trying to reduce the ground for anti-immigration forces.”

The tensions are even altering the Irish political landscape. For example, polling for the main opposition party, Sinn Fein, has plummeted in recent months amid criticism that the main opposition party, Sinn Fein, is not tough enough on immigration.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticized the Irish government for failing to agree with residents on how immigration would affect their towns.

“We need rules and regulations,” Ms. McDonald said at a recent briefing for journalists in London. “Especially in the poorest areas, where services are poor, they feel the difficulty even more if they consider the people who arrive.”

Sunak predicted that Britain's use of Rwanda to process asylum claims would be copied by other countries. But critics say this would pose a thorny challenge to the global legal system for refugee protection. If more countries outsourced the processing of asylum seekers, they might simply end up shifting the flow of refugees to neighboring countries, as Britain has done.

Mr Harris also faces some of the same legal obstacles that have dogged Mr Sunak in his attempt to implement the Rwanda policy. Ireland's High Court has ruled that the government cannot designate Britain as a “safe third country” and return asylum seekers there, due to the risk of Britain sending them to Rwanda.

The British Supreme Court struck down an earlier version of Rwanda's legislation because it had ruled that Rwanda was not a safe country. Sunak then signed a treaty with the Rwandan government and revised the legislation, essentially overturning the court's decision. Parliament approved the law last week.

Immigration experts in Ireland have cast doubt on the government's claim that 80% of recent asylum seekers crossed the border from Northern Ireland. Some, they said, may have arrived at airports or seaports in the Irish Republic and not immediately applied for asylum status.

However, said Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, “If people are moving to Ireland from the UK in large numbers, this should be seen in the context that the UK is not a safe country for people in seeks protection.”

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