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UK smooths path for Rwanda program

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The controversial Rwanda asylum seeker program in the UK is one step closer to reality, after new laws were approved in parliament.
Rwanda asylum seeker program

A new law passed this week will allow the UK Government to deport some asylum seekers to the central African country of Rwanda.

The law was tabled in UK Parliament last year, one month after the Supreme Court ruled the plan unlawful over safety concerns.

The Government plans to organise the first flight to Rwanda in the next three months.

Rwanda asylum seeker program

The UK first announced plans to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda in 2022. The plan largely targeted asylum seekers arriving by boat who had first travelled through other European countries.

The first planned flight was cancelled minutes before takeoff following a legal injunction from the European Court of Human Rights. The UK Supreme Court has since deemed the policy illegal.

Migration is a key policy for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of the next UK election.

What’s in the laws?

The law that passed this week affirms Rwanda’s status as a “safe country for the purposes of relocating people”.

Under international law, it is not illegal to seek asylum, and countries must not send people to an unsafe place. The Supreme Court blocked the original bill partly on the grounds that the UK Government couldn’t then guarantee Rwanda was a safe country.

A new appeals body will be created in Rwanda to hear claims against asylum refusals or other protection claims. Rwanda has agreed not to send these asylum seekers to other countries.

How will it work?

Anyone who arrives in the UK without a visa intending to apply for asylum will be sent back to their country of origin or to Rwanda, whichever is deemed safer.

There is no limit on the number of migrants that the UK can send to Rwanda. There are plans to increase capacity as demand grows.

The Government has booked charter planes, increased detention spaces, and prepared transport escorts and case workers ahead of the flights. Extra courtrooms to address potential legal cases have also been arranged.

UK Parliament

Sunak, leader of the Conservative Party, said the new laws would “deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit them”.

He said the “landmark” laws reflected a “fundamental change in the global equation on migration”.

The scheme has failed to win the support of the Labour Opposition. Party leader Keir Starmer has called the policy a “gimmick”, and said he would scrap it due to its cost if Labour wins the upcoming election.

Response

The United Nations opposes the Rwanda scheme, saying it “seeks to shift responsibility for refugee protection” and warned it could set a “worrying global precedent”.

The UN also believes the plans will “drastically limit” the ability of asylum seekers to challenge decisions made about their future.

Human Rights Watch has said the plan will risk the lives of migrants and has accused the UK of mischaracterising the true safety of Rwanda.

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