Mon | Mar 4, 2024

UK paid Rwanda $300 million for a blocked asylum deal. No flights have taken off

Published:Friday | December 8, 2023 | 3:03 PM
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gives an update on the plan to "stop the boats" and illegal migration during a press conference in the Downing Street Briefing Room in London, Thursday, December 7, 2023. (James Manning/Pool via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was under pressure Friday to explain why Britain has paid Rwanda 240 million pounds ($300 million) as part of a blocked asylum plan, without a single person being sent to the East African country.

The total is almost twice the 140 million pounds that Britain previously said it had handed to the Rwandan government under a deal struck in April 2022.

Under the agreement, migrants who reach Britain across the English Channel would be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed and, if successful, they would stay.

The plan was challenged in United Kingdom courts, and no flights to Rwanda have taken off.

Last month, Britain's Supreme Court ruled the policy was illegal because Rwanda isn't a safe country for refugees.

Despite the ruling and the mounting cost, Sunak has pledged to press on with the plan.

The Home Office said it had paid a further 100 million pounds to Rwanda in the 2023-24 financial year and expects to hand over 50 million pounds more in the coming 12 months.

Junior Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove defended the cost, saying the money would ensure “all of the right infrastructure to support the partnership is in place.”

“Part of that money is helpful in making sure that we can respond to the issues properly that the Supreme Court raised,” he said.

The opposition Liberal Democrats said it was “an unforgivable waste of taxpayers' money.”

The Rwanda plan is central to the United Kingdom government's self-imposed goal to stop unauthorised asylum-seekers from trying to reach England from France in small boats.

More than 29,000 people have done so this year, compared to 46,000 in 2022.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, Britain and Rwanda have signed a treaty pledging to strengthen protections for migrants.

Sunak's government argues that the treaty allows it to pass a law declaring Rwanda a safe destination.

The law, if approved by Parliament, would allow the government to “disapply” sections of UK human rights law when it comes to Rwanda-related asylum claims and make it harder to challenge the deportations in court.

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