Will Britain deport asylum seekers to Rwanda?

British Home Secretary James Cleverly tours the Kigali Genocide Memorial during his visit to Kigali, Rwanda, to sign a new treaty with Rwanda, December 5, 2023. Ben Birchall/Pool via REUTERS

British Home Secretary James Cleverly signed a new treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday, seeking to overcome a court decision that blocked the government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to the East African country.

On Wednesday, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister of Britain, resigned, as announced in parliament by Cleverly. This followed the government’s release of draft emergency legislation designed to initiate the implementation of its deportation scheme for Rwandan migrants.

The Arguments

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces significant pressure to reduce net migration, which reached a record 745,000 last year, and halt the flow of asylum seekers using people smugglers for Channel crossings. The government stated that those arriving on small boats are essentially breaking into the country. The government also announced plans to reduce legal routes for immigration, raising the minimum salary for skilled jobs.

“Stop the boats” is one of five goals set by Sunak’s government before the upcoming national election. The Supreme Court deemed the government’s scheme unlawful, citing the risk of wrongly assessing deported refugees’ claims or returning them to face persecution.

Growing tensions within the Conservative Party centre around how to respond, with some members urging the government to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, following the European Court of Human Rights’ initial block on deportation flights. In 2023, nearly 29,000 people arrived on the southern English coast without permission, following a record 45,755 in 2022.

While the Rwanda policy was announced by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year, no asylum seekers have been sent to the country.

Critics of the plan, including opposition lawmakers, some Conservatives, church leaders, and the United Nations refugee agency, argue that the policy is flawed, wasteful, immoral, and unlikely to be effective.

The Facts

The Rwanda plan, a key element in the government’s strategy to reduce migration, is closely monitored by other countries contemplating similar measures. However, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court recently ruled that such actions would violate international human rights laws embedded in domestic legislation.

Since the court’s decision, the UK has been working to renegotiate its agreement with Rwanda to include a binding treaty preventing the expulsion of asylum seekers sent there by Britain, a major concern highlighted by the court.

Cleverly, who arrived in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Tuesday morning, met with the country’s foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, to sign the agreement. He asserted that the treaty addressed all issues raised by the Supreme Court, and no additional funds had been allocated to Rwanda beyond the existing memorandum of understanding.

Under the plan, Britain aims to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived without permission to Rwanda, discouraging migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats from Europe. In return, Rwanda received an initial payment of £140 million ($180 million) with the promise of additional funds to support the accommodation and care of deported individuals.

Despite legal challenges and protests, the British government is proceeding with the deportation flights to Rwanda. On Wednesday, Ministers passed the emergency legislation designating Rwanda as a “safe country” to counter the Supreme Court’s legal objections against planned deportation flights.



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