Migrant flights to Rwanda ‘by this summer’
Migrants who arrive in the UK illegally face deportation to Rwanda this summer after Suella Braverman said the country is “clearly ready” to start receiving asylum seekers.
Those claiming to be victims of modern slavery will face deportation after the Home Secretary signed a revised deal with the African state's foreign minister closing loopholes that could have prevented removals.
On a two-day visit to Kigali, Mrs Braverman expressed her determination to “move quickly” with deportation flights.
She also indicated that the UK could be prepared to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if European judges block the legislation.
It comes as Tory backbenchers are preparing a series of amendments to strengthen the legislation, including setting out new powers to ignore Strasbourg judgments.
The revised agreement signed on Saturday night with Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s foreign minister, means any migrant arriving in the UK illegally can now be swiftly detained and deported to Rwanda irrespective of whether their claim was through asylum, the Human Rights Act including modern slavery laws or no claim at all.
Attempts to deport migrants to Rwanda could have been blocked on human rights or modern slavery grounds, as the previous agreement signed last year only covered asylum.
“It seals off all the loopholes,” said a source.
Mrs Braverman said: “We are working to make this happen as soon as possible. There is every possibility that we can move quickly if we get a good line of judgment in our favour.”
She added: “What's been great about the visit is that we are talking about operationalising our migration Economic and Development Partnership and I think that Rwanda is clearly ready.”
The Court of Appeal will next month hear a challenge against the Rwanda policy before passing judgment in June. If it goes in the Government’s favour and backs the original High Court ruling, ministers expect to press ahead with flights immediately.
If it goes up to the Supreme Court, it is understood they will consider whether to start deporting migrants with a commitment to return them to the UK if the judgment eventually goes against them.
“We are certainly working towards getting the flights off by the summer,” said a government source.
Mrs Braverman said the Illegal Migration Bill, due to return to Commons next week, would also include “some measures” to counter Strasbourg judges using last-minute injunctions to block flights, as happened last June with the first scheduled Rwanda flight.
Asked if the UK would leave the ECHR if European judges blocked the new legislation, she said: “Nothing is off the table ultimately.”
However, she said: “I’m confident the Rwanda partnership was authoritatively upheld by the High Court in a very extensive judgment, a very rigorous analysis by senior judges.
“Our partnership was found to be lawful, and compliant with human rights laws, the refugee convention and international obligations. I take a lot of confidence from that ruling.”
'Beautiful, high quality' new homes
Rwanda has begun building some 40,000 permanent homes, a portion of which have been earmarked for migrants removed from the UK. It has also trained immigration officers to handle their asylum claims as part of the UK’s £140 million funding package. They are said to be “champing at the bit” to begin work.
The Home Secretary confirmed that Britain is in “constructive dialogue” with countries “around the world” for similar schemes, but indicated Rwanda alone could stop the boats.
“The capacity for Rwanda is in the region of thousands. We believe that that is sufficient to deal with the challenge we're facing in the UK,” she said.
On Saturday, Mrs Braverman visited one of the first “towns” being constructed to permanently house asylum seekers from the UK after they move from initial hostel or hotel accommodation.
The estate of 2,500 two and three-bedroom houses in Kigali offers affordable housing at between £14,000 and £30,000 - some of which are to be earmarked for UK asylum seekers, with the remainder sold to Rwandan civil servants, teachers and health workers.
Once they get a job, they could exercise the right to buy the homes.
Mrs Braverman said: “These houses are really beautiful, high quality, welcoming and I quite like your interior designer. I need some advice myself.”
Britain’s £140 million deal is paying for land purchases, infrastructure such as roads and services, as well as support and training for asylum seekers to help them get jobs.
Officials said the new Bill will allow deported migrants to use UK courts via videolinks and for their lawyers to judicially review their removal.
If successful, the courts could order Britain to take them back. Mrs Braverman accepted it was a risk but maintained they would be “highly exceptional and isolated instances”.
It comes as Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is facing a rebellion from Tories on the Right of the party who are concerned the small boats legislation does not go far enough.
A “considerable” number of MPs are looking to strengthen areas of the Bill including the burden of proof placed on asylum seekers when making claims in their applications, as well as its insulation from the Human Rights Act and ECHR.