The UK aims to send migrants to Rwanda within months if the courts agree

KIGALI, Rwanda — The British government announced on Sunday that it may begin deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda in the coming months – but only if British courts rule that the controversial policy is legal.

The Home Office said the aim was to launch flights “before the summer”, as Home Secretary Suella Braverman visited the East African country to reinforce the Conservative government’s commitment to the plan.

In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, he met with President Paul Kagame and Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, visited accommodation for UK deportees and laid bricks for another residential building for migrants. More than 1,000 houses are expected to be built in the project.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing firsthand the rich opportunities this country can offer resettled people through our partnership,” Braverman said.

Biruta said Rwanda will “offer migrants the opportunity to build a new life in a safe place through accommodation, education and vocational training”.

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told reporters the country was ready to accept thousands of migrants from the UK and said she did not see staying in Rwanda as a “punishment”. He said Rwanda was determined to see the agreement succeed.

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Almost a year ago, the UK and Rwanda struck a deal whereby some migrants arriving in the UK on small boats would be taken to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be assessed. Those granted asylum stay in Rwanda rather than return to Britain.

The British government argues that the policy will disrupt the business model of people-smuggling gangs and deter migrants from making risky journeys across the English Channel.

More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain by boat in 2022, up from 8,500 in 2020.

But the 140 million pound ($170 million) plan faces legal challenges and no one has yet been sent to Rwanda. In December, the Supreme Court ruled the policy legal, but a group of asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq and Syria were given leave to appeal.

Human rights groups cite Rwanda’s poor human rights record and argue that sending people over 6,400 kilometers to a country where they do not want to live is inhumane.

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The government has also drawn up draft legislation to ban anyone arriving in the UK by small boat or other unauthorized means from claiming asylum. If passed by parliament, the illegal migration bill would force the government to detain and deport all such arrivals to their home country or a “safe third country” such as Rwanda.

According to the UN refugee agency, the law violates Britain’s obligations under the international refugee convention.

Braverman has been criticized for inviting only select media to his taxpayer-funded trip to Rwanda. Journalists from right-wing sites including The Times and The Telegraph and the GB News television channel were invited, while the BBC and the left-wing Guardian newspaper were not. ___

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Jill Lawless reported from London.