What is the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?

Home Secretary James Cleverly pictured in the Rwandan capital Kigali on 5 December 2023

The UK government wants to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

In November, the UK Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful because of the risk that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda could be returned to their home countries, where they could face harm.

In response, the government signed a new treaty with Rwanda to strengthen its asylum process, and proposed new UK laws declaring that Rwanda is a safe country.

What is the Rwanda asylum plan?

Under the five-year trial – first announced in April 2022 – some asylum seekers arriving in the UK would be sent to Rwanda for processing.

On arrival, they could be granted refugee status and allowed to stay. If not, they could apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in another “safe third country”.

The government said that “anyone entering the UK illegally” after 1 January 2022 could be sent there, with no limit on numbers.

But, so far, no asylum seeker has actually been sent.

The first flight was scheduled to go in June 2022, but was cancelled after legal challenges.

The government insists that the policy would deter people arriving in the UK through “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods”, such as on small boats across the English Channel.

In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “stopping the boats” was one of his key priorities.

Chart showing the number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats, 2018-2023 (4 December 2023)

What does the new bill say about the safety of Rwanda?

The government says that the bill – which must be approved by Parliament – makes clear in UK law that Rwanda is a safe country.

The legislation orders British judges and courts to ignore some sections of the UK Human Rights Act.

Asylum seekers would still be able to challenge their removal to Rwanda based on their personal circumstances.

But ministers could ignore emergency orders from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to suspend a flight to Rwanda while an individual legal case was being heard.

Some Conservative politicians are unhappy with the proposed law, because they think it risks being blocked by the courts again. Others have criticised the legislation because they believe it breaks international law.

Rishi Sunak
Image caption,PM Rishi Sunak met Tory MPs to bolster support for the bill ahead of the House of Commons vote

The bill passed its first vote in Parliament, but could still face hurdles at later stages.

No Conservative MPs voted against the legislation, but some chose not to vote at all.

Why did the Supreme Court block sending people to Rwanda?

The UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Rwanda scheme was unlawful.

It said genuine refugees sent there would be at risk of being returned to their home countries, where they could face harm, known in law as “refoulement”.

This breaches part of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which prohibits torture and inhuman treatment. The UK is a signatory to the ECHR.

The judges said the policy contravenes three other laws passed by Parliament during the last 30 years.

The ruling also cited concerns about Rwanda’s poor human rights record, and its past treatment of refugees.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told the Court that the Rwandan authorities turned down 100% of all asylum claims made by people from Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria between 2020 and 2022.

The Rwandan government rejected the Court judgement: “We take our humanitarian responsibilities seriously, and will continue to live up to them.”

What does the new treaty with Rwanda say?

On 5 December, the UK signed a new migration treaty with Rwanda.

Home Secretary James Cleverley says it guarantees that any people sent to Rwanda to claim asylum would not be at risk of refoulement.

Other provisions include:

  • a new independent monitoring committee to ensure Rwanda complies with its obligations
  • the UK will pay for British and Commonwealth judges to preside over a new appeals process
  • the UK will also pay the accommodation and living expenses of people relocated to Rwanda for up to five years

What will the Rwanda plan cost?

The government gave £140m to Rwanda in 2022.

On 7 December, the Home Office’s top civil servant confirmed that a further £100m was given to the country in 2023, with a payment of £50m “anticipated” in 2024.

Ahead of the vote on the new Rwanda bill, James Cleverly confirmed to Parliament that the UK plans to give a further £50m to Rwanda in 2026.

In November, the PM claimed that the Rwanda plan will “literally save us billions in the long run”, but did not provide any figures to back this up.

An earlier economic-impact assessment prepared for the government’s Illegal Migration Bill estimated that removing each individual to a third country, such as Rwanda, would cost £63,000 more than keeping them in the UK.

Members of the staff board a plane reported by British media to be first to transport migrants to Rwanda, at MOD Boscombe Down in June 2022
Image caption,Legal challenges meant the first Rwanda flight was cancelled shortly before take-off in June 2022

The Home Office said no cost would be incurred if the policy prevented an individual from entering the UK illegally, but it could not say how many people would be deterred.

The UK’s asylum system costs £3bn a year. About £8m a day is spent on hotel accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Where is Rwanda?

Rwanda is a small land-locked country in east-central Africa, 4,000 miles (6,500km) south-east of the UK,

It borders Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Uganda, and has a population of 13.8 million.

Map showing Rwanda

President Paul Kagame hopes to win a fourth term in 2024, which would extend his term to nearly three decades.

At the last election in 2017, he won nearly 99% of the vote, but critics accuse him of supressing his opponents.

According to Human Rights https://fokuslahlagi.com Watch, “Rwanda is a country where it’s very dangerous to oppose the government”.

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