What is the Government's Rwanda plan? Rishi Sunak’s bill passes


Rishi Sunak’s controversial Safety of Rwanda Bill passed through Parliament on Tuesday, meaning deportations of asylum seekers to Rwanda could soon begin.

Speaking before the bill's recent approval, Sunak suggested that the first flights could depart “in 10 to 12 weeks".

The UK prime minister had also previously promised that flights would depart "every month" until unauthorised travel over the Channel had stopped.

Hours after the bill passed through Parliament, reports revealed that five more migrants had died trying to cross the channel.

Human rights groups have also condemned the Rwanda Bill as a “breach of international law”, arguing that it won’t deter people from reaching safety.

Dr Wanda Wyporska, from Safe Passage International said: “Not only does it undermine international and UK human rights laws, but it simply won’t work to deter people from making dangerous Channel crossings, as refugees have no other way to reach safety and family here.

Contrary to the opinions of human rights campaigners and even the UK Supreme Court, Sunak has tried to shoehorn the bill’s passing in the hopes of deterring further people crossing the channel.

Here is how this complicated state of affairs breaks down and what will happen next.

How did we get to this point?

In April 2022, then-PM Boris Johnson announced a plan to cut the problem of migrants arriving in small boats by deporting them to Rwanda.

An agreement was signed by then-home secretary Suella Braverman but the European Court of Human Rights steps in minutes before take-off, calling the plan illegal.

There are concerns around the treatment of people in Rwanda and the ethics of deporting migrants in such a way.

The problem of migration worsens and the Sunak government presses forward with the Rwanda plan, with Ms Braverman signing a £140 million deal with Kigali.

In December 2022, the agreement was ruled lawful by the High Court but then, in June 2023, it was ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal and then by the Supreme Court in November 2023.

The safety of Rwanda was the chief concern and the Government appeared to be stuck in a legal stalemate until today.

What is Rishi Sunak’s new Rwanda plan?

Mr Sunak thinks the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will prevent continued legal challenges and allow the project to finally commence.

As well as compelling judges to regard the east African country as safe, the legislation will give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions, aimed at clearing the way to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight to Kigali.

It’s no coincidence that he’s also pushing for this ahead of an election, as migration is often a big topic for voters.

What were the Lords unhappy about?

Earlier in March, the House of Lords backed by 278 votes to 189, majority 89, a move to overturn the Government’s plan to oust the courts from the process.

The amendment agreed by the Lords restores the jurisdiction of domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda and enables them to intervene.

What has been problematic for the government is that Peers are not wholly aligned to political camps and cannot be put in line by the whip system.

The peer system means that members include faith leaders as well as experts in particular fields, who do not feel pressured to comply with the will of No 10.

Indeed, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has criticised the legislation, telling Times Radio: “I take this from a purely Christian point of view.

“The Bible is very clear, it talks in the Old Testament more than about anything else about the need to be hospitable to the stranger. Jesus himself was a refugee, he talks about being welcomed when you are a stranger... it’s nothing very extraordinary that we take this view...and the Church has always been consistent on this.”

But it is not just the faith argument that has led the peers to deny the government its way - with Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, arguing that it could have troublesome implications.

She said: “This Bill will not only prevent redress for the most serious human rights violations, but by specifically excluding asylum seekers from access to justice, it will also negate the principle of equality before the law.

“Furthermore, the Rwanda Bill significantly interferes with judicial independence, compelling judges to align with the government’s stance that Rwanda is a safe destination, despite the UK Supreme Court’s well-considered and detailed finding to the contrary.”

Responding, senior government law officer Lord Stewart of Dirleton said: “There are ample safeguards in the Bill and this amendment would be contrary to the Bill’s whole purpose.”

What will happen next?

The Home Office has reportedly paid £240m so far and intends to spend another £50 million in 2024/25 to get the Rwanda deportations underway.

Given that the bill has now passed its parliamentary hurdles, we may see the first deportations by July 2024.

The BBC reported that hostels are already set up in Rwanda to facilitate asylum seekers. However, it’s unclear how much support migrants will receive upon arrival.

It’s also anticipated that there will be more legal challenges to deportations; however, the bill will make it harder for people to argue their case as it requires the courts to consider Rwanda safe.

Most human rights groups believe the bill will do little to deter vulnerable people from desperately trying to secure a safer life.

Instead, they argue more legal routes need to be created to help improve an immigration system that’s currently failing many people.