Rwanda’s President said it was the “UK’s problem” that asylum seekers had not been sent to the country and suggested British taxpayers’ money could be repaid if the deal failed.
Asked by the BBC if the UK’s plan was working and if Rwanda was a safe country for refugees as he attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Paul Kagame said: “It’s the UK’s problem, not Rwanda’s problem.”
“If they don’t come, we can return the money,” the president added.
Some £240 million has already been committed to the Rwanda plan, with a further £50 million earmarked for next year.
Senior Home Office officials have so far refused to say how much more money the UK has already agreed to pay Rwanda under the initial five-year deal, when questioned by MPs.
The comments come as Rishi Sunak tries to win over Tory rebels ahead of a crunch vote on his stalled flagship policy to curb migrant crossings in the Channel, after the Prime Minister faced the biggest Conservative revolt of his leadership.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo later said the country has “no obligation” to return any of the funds paid but if the UK requested a refund “we will consider this”.
However, she made clear this would only apply to a portion of funds which were specifically allocated to pay for support for migrants.
Only part of the funds the UK has agreed to pay Rwanda under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership will be used to help the country “prepare to receive and care for migrants when they arrive”, while the remaining cash is to be put towards boosting the east African nation’s economy.
Ms Makolo said in a statement: “Under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid. However, if no migrants come to Rwanda under the scheme, and the UK Government wishes to request a refund of the portion of the funding allocated to support the migrants, we will consider this request.
“To talk about figures at this point is premature, as we are still awaiting the conclusion of the UK legislative process and remain committed to making the partnership work.”
A Tory rebel source warned “at this rate it will be Labour having to pay back the money” as they called on the Government to “back our plan”, adding: “The Government’s plan is going to need hundreds of judges to clear thousands of claims which will take months and months at a bare minimum.
“Rwanda want a plan that works quickly, not one that satisfies the whims of our Attorney General.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “If Rwanda says we can have the money back from this failing scheme, Rishi Sunak should seize the chance, instead of dragging out this Tory asylum chaos any longer. We need proper grip not more of this failing gimmick.
“The taxpayer is being hit for more than £400 million for a scheme that is only likely to cover one per cent of those arriving.
“That money could go instead into strengthening our border security, including Labour’s plan to crackdown on the criminal smuggler gangs with cross-border law enforcement and establish a major new returns unit.”
Last month MPs heard Rwanda could walk away from its multi-million pound deal with the UK and keep the money “without accepting a single asylum seeker”.
The suggestion was made when the Home Office’s top civil servant was brought before a Commons committee to answer questions over the bid to send migrants to the African country.
The department’s permanent secretary, Sir Matthew Rycroft, told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) there was a “break clause” included in the memorandum of understanding the UK and Rwanda signed in April 2022 to seal the deal, which allows either government to walk away from it with three months’ notice.
He confirmed that if the UK instigates the break clause, Rwanda keeps the money already paid but added: “There is a presumption that the UK Government will want to continue with the partnership, bearing in mind its importance in the overall efforts to stop the boats.”
If Rwanda ends the agreement, Sir Matthew said the country’s government would have to repay the money “proportionately”.
The exchange prompted committee chairwomen Dame Meg Hillier to say: “So they could still have the money with having perhaps not had to receive a single asylum seeker.”
“It would depend on the circumstances,” Sir Matthew replied.
The committee of MPs which scrutinises Government spending had summoned Sir Matthew to explain why there was “secrecy” over the payments for the policy, which has so far been unsuccessful in removing a single migrant amid legal challenges.
A UK Government spokesman said ministers were confident of enacting the Rwanda policy, with no need for the money invested to be refunded.
The spokesman said: “This won’t be necessary as we are determined to get flights off the ground to Rwanda, control our borders and stop the boats.
“Rwanda is currently host to over 135,000 people seeking safety and has repeatedly made clear they are as passionate as we are about ending the global illegal migration crisis.”
Home Office officials said the funding given by the UK to Rwanda was not intended to be returned.
If the agreement between the two countries was terminated, Britain would not make any further economic-style payments but would continue to have an obligation to relocated asylum seekers, with funding continuing for up to five years, department aides said.