UK officials working on starting deportation flights to Rwanda 'by summer'

UK officials are working towards getting deportation flights to Rwanda started "by the summer", a government source has told Sky News.

The home secretary signed an update to the government's migrants agreement with the central African country this weekend, expanding its scope to "all categories of people who pass through safe countries and make illegal and dangerous journeys to the UK".

A Home Office statement said it would allow the government to deliver on its new Illegal Migration Bill as it would mean those coming to the UK illegally, who "cannot be returned to their home country", will be "in scope to be relocated to Rwanda".

The government source said it would "seal off all the loopholes" for those arriving illegally, including those claiming to be victims of modern slavery.

Suella Braverman hailed the strengthening of the UK's migration partnership as she visited the capital Kigali where she met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the country's minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, Dr Vincent Biruta.

The UK government plans to send tens of thousands of migrants more than 4,000 miles away to Rwanda as part of a £120m deal agreed with Rwanda last year.

No one has made the journey yet.

A flight was stopped at the eleventh hour in June last year after an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

On Saturday, Ms Braverman and Dr Biruta signed the update to the memorandum of understanding, expanding the partnership further.

Rwanda has 'plentiful resources'

Highlighting steps being taken by the government, Ms Braverman said: "What the bill does is dramatically and significantly reduces the legal routes available - the claims available to people to thwart their removal or relocation from the United Kingdom.

"To delay their detention. To undermine our rules. And what we are seeing at the moment is people using the modern slavery claims, using asylum claims, using human rights laws… just to thwart our duty to control our borders."

She continued: "Our bill fixes that, and we have struck the right balance between fairness, on the one hand, for delivering a robust system of legal duties and powers to detain and remove, and compassion - so that we are relocating people to a safe country.

"And as we have seen here in Rwanda, there are plentiful resources to properly support and accommodate people so that they can live safe and secure lives."

Braverman visits potential migrant housing

During her visit to Rwanda, the home secretary spent time meeting refugees, who had settled in the country.

She also took a tour of newly-built housing and accommodation units, which will be used to home those relocated to Rwanda.

One refugee living in Rwanda, Fesseha Teame, told reporters he had "never felt I have been considered as a foreigner", but did not see the African nation having the capacity to hold "many thousands" of migrants.

The 48-year-old, with a wife and four children, spoke to the media after the home secretary claimed: "Rwanda has the capacity to resettle many thousands of people, and can quickly stand up accommodation once flights begin."

Ms Braverman also said the suggestion that Rwanda could only take 200 people is a "completely false narrative peddled by critics who want to scrap the deal".

The figure quoted was used by Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo when speaking to British journalists last year.

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Ms Braverman met with investment start-ups as well as entrepreneurs to discuss the range of business and employment opportunities available to people in Rwanda.

Earlier this month, the prime minister announced a package that will see a new detention centre established in France as well as the deployment of more French personnel and enhanced technology to patrol beaches in a shared effort to drive down illegal migration.

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Throughout 2022, some 45,728 people crossed to the UK via the Channel - up 60% on the previous year.

Ms Braverman said she was visiting Rwanda this weekend to "reinforce the government's commitment to the partnership as part of our plan to stop the boats and discuss plans to operationalise our agreement shortly".