What are the plans to fly migrants seeking asylum in the UK to Rwanda?

Lawyers say there is a risk of mass claims against the Government if the policy is found to be unlawful at a full judicial review hearing.

11 June 2022

The first flight of migrants from the UK to Rwanda is due next week as part of the Government’s new immigration policy.

Here is a look at what is known about the plans.

Priti Patel visit to Rwanda
Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a deal in Rwanda (Flora Thompson/PA)

– How many people will be removed to Rwanda?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the agreement is “uncapped” and Rwanda will have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”.

But officials are putting the figure at closer to thousands in the first years.

As of June 10, up to 130 people had been notified they could be removed, with the High Court in London hearing that 31 people were due on the first flight on Tuesday, while the Home Office is planning to schedule more this year.

– Who will be removed?

Home Secretary Priti Patel says the “vast majority” of those who arrive in the UK through means deemed “illegal” – such as on unauthorised boats or stowed away in lorries – will be considered for relocation.

It is understood that adults will be prioritised for relocation under the scheme, with officials insisting families arriving in the UK will not be split up.

– How much will the scheme cost?

The taxpayer will foot the bill, including for the cost of chartering flights to remove detainees, but ministers are not saying how much the programme will cost.

Boris Johnson visit to Kent
Labour accused Boris Johnson of trying to distract from the ‘partygate’ scandal (Matt Dunham/PA)

Britain has promised Rwanda an initial £120 million as part of an “economic transformation and integration fund”, but the UK will be paying operational costs as well.

The Home Office said a set amount of funding will be provided for each relocated person, but declined to say how much, other than to say it will be comparable to current processing costs in the UK and will cover case workers, legal advice, translators, accommodation, food and healthcare.

For those who successfully claim asylum in Rwanda, it will fund an integration package to help them put down roots.

The agreement with Rwanda also says Britain will resettle “a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees” in the UK.

The Refugee Council claims costs could soar to £1.4 billion, citing a Together With Refugees report based on the Australian offshore processing system.

But the Home Office questioned the figure, with a source saying it was “ludicrous to suggest costs would be more than the current system”.

– How will it work?

Once migrants are brought ashore in Dover by Navy and Border Force personnel they will receive medical assessment before being taken to the Manston disused airfield and processing site.

Those deemed to have entered by dangerous or illegal means will be detained and considered for removal to Rwanda under a screening process.

Not only is it designed to exempt those with relevant vulnerabilities or safeguarding risks, but Rwanda has to approve any requests and has made clear it would reject any individuals with criminal records.

People seeking asylum from Rwanda are not expected to be sent back there, regardless of how they entered the UK.

The selected migrants will be sent by chartered flight to Rwanda where they will be housed in temporary accommodation, not detained, and have their asylum claims assessed.

If they are not granted refugee status, they will be given the option of applying to stay under another basis.

– What’s the point?

Mr Johnson accepted the measure is not a “magic bullet” that will solve the crossings problem but hopes it will be a “very considerable deterrent”.

He wants it to break the business model of the “vile people smugglers” who risk turning the Channel into a “watery graveyard”.

But refugee charities argued the plans do nothing to alleviate the pressures forcing migrants to take the extraordinary step of paying criminals to pack them into unsafe boats to cross a perilous shipping lane.

– When will it start and how long is the deal for?

The arrangement between the UK Government and Rwanda will last for five years, the agreed memorandum of understanding says.

But they have retained the option to renew the scheme a year from its scheduled end.

Mr Johnson made it clear he was braced for the policy to be challenged in the courts, as he criticised a “formidable army of politically motivated lawyers” who want to “thwart removals”.

– What have the courts said?

A High Court judge ruled on Friday that the first flight can go ahead on Tuesday.

Campaign groups, a union and several people due to be given a one-way ticket to Rwanda had asked judges to block their upcoming deportation flight.

Lawyers for the Home Office argued there was a “strong public interest in permitting these removals to proceed as scheduled” and a “clear public interest in deterring the making of dangerous journeys and the activities of criminal smugglers”.

Mr Johnson and Ms Patel welcomed the court’s decision.

– Is that the end of the legal fight?

A High Court judge ruled on Friday that the first flight can go ahead on Tuesday (Anthony Devlin/PA)
A High Court judge ruled on Friday that the first flight can go ahead on Tuesday (Anthony Devlin/PA)

No. Shortly after his ruling at the High Court, Mr Justice Swift granted the claimants permission to appeal, with a hearing expected on Monday.

A full judicial review hearing is also due to take place next month.

Raza Husain QC, for the claimants, said there is a risk of mass claims against the Government if the policy is found to be unlawful at the full hearing, adding that the people affected are “largely traumatised”.

– Have any international organisations spoken out?

Laura Dubinsky QC, for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which intervened in the High Court claim, said there had been “inaccuracies” in the way the agency’s views had been described by the Home Office.

She told the court the agency is concerned about the risk of “serious, irreparable harm” caused to refugees sent to Rwanda, adding the body “in no way endorses the UK-Rwandan arrangement”.

– Is Rwanda safe?

Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world, according to Mr Johnson, while Ms Patel said it is a “safe and secure country with the respect for the rule of law”.

But critics have aired concerns over the African nation’s “dismal” human rights record.

A Human Rights Watch report last year found evidence that Rwandan authorities had arbitrarily detained over a dozen gay and transgender people ahead of a June 2021 conference, accusing them of “not representing Rwandan values”.

According to the Foreign Office, homosexuality “remains frowned upon by many” and LGBT people can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities.

The travel advice page describes the country as “generally safe” with relatively low crime levels, but the situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi remains unstable, and there have been armed attacks in some areas.

– Has there been any other high-profile reaction to the Government’s plans?

The Prince of Wales has reportedly expressed opposition to the policy several times in private (Yui Mok/PA)
Charles has reportedly expressed opposition to the policy several times in private (Yui Mok/PA)

The Prince of Wales was reported as privately describing the Government’s policy as “appalling”.

The Times reported that Charles was especially frustrated at the policy as he will represent the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda later this month.

The newspaper said a source had heard the heir to the throne express opposition to the policy several times in private, and that he was “more than disappointed”.

A Clarence House spokesman said: “We would not comment on supposed anonymous private conversations with the Prince of Wales, except to restate that he remains politically neutral. Matters of policy are decisions for Government.”

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