Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the government has already chartered commercial jets that would be ready within months. The plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda had previously faced legal hurdles.

Rwanda plan: UK Parliament passes migrant deportation bill

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Published: 4/23/2024 8:07:30 AM
Sunak is facing dire polling numbers with a general election on the horizonImage: Toby Melville/AP Photo/picture alliance

Sunak is facing dire polling numbers with a general election on the horizonImage: Toby Melville/AP Photo/picture alliance

The British Parliament approved a controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda on Monday night after a marathon tussle between the upper and lower houses.


The bill cleared its final hurdle when the House of Lords — which had repeatedly sent back the legislation — agreed not to make any further changes.

Lawmakers in the House of Commons had already rejected two amendments made in the House of Lords last week.

Hours before the vote, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that deportation flights would start in the coming months.

"We are ready, plans are in place and these flights will go, come what may," Sunak said at a press conference.

What was voted on?

The bill is a response by Sunak's government to a ruling by the UK's Supreme Court that deporting asylum seekers to the East African country would be in violation of international law.

It would oblige the courts to consider Rwanda as a safe third country and give powers to UK lawmakers to ignore parts of international law as well as human rights law.

The idea to send migrants to Rwanda was first introduced by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022, but legal objections have prevented any flights from going ahead.

The Conservatives have repeatedly pledged a reduction in migrant numbers, increasingly making it one of their flagship policies. But they are expected to suffer a resounding defeat at the next general election that could take place this year, after 14 years in power.

Expensive 'gimmick'

The plan to deport asylum seekers, who are fleeing conflict, poverty and increasingly extreme weather, is expected to cost the country £540 million ($665 million) to send just the first 300 people to Rwanda.

It has been called a cruel "gimmick" by the charity Care4Calais.

The government has said it will stop asylum seekers from wanting to come to the UK, although it's not clear how effective this will be. Some 120,000 people crossed the English Channel since 2018, arriving illegally. Dozens have died.

Nevertheless, Sunak said on Monday that the government had chartered commercial jets and put an airfield on standby for the first flights which could take place in 10 to 12 weeks' time.

UN rights experts have warned that airline companies that are involved in the project could themselves end up being charged with complicity in violating international law.

What have reactions been?

The Council of Europe has called on the UK to abandon the plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, calling it an "infringement of judicial independence."

"The United Kingdom government should refrain from removing people under the Rwanda policy and reverse the Bill's effective infringement of judicial independence", said the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael O'Flaherty.

Two top UN officials also denounced London's plans, saying they could set a "perilous president."

Filippo Grandi of the UNHCR refugee agency and UN rights commission Volker Türk urged the UK to "take practical measures to address irregular flows of refugees and migrants, based on international cooperation and respect for international human rights law."

Meanwhile, Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo said that Kigali was "pleased" by the passage of the bill.

He said that Rwanda was looking forward to "welcoming those relocated to Rwanda."

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