Mon | Mar 4, 2024

Sunak under fire for £240m asylum deal with Rwanda

Published:Saturday | December 9, 2023 | 12:08 AM
Britain’s Home Secretary James Cleverly (left), and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta shake hands after signing a new treaty in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday. The treaty will address concerns by the Supreme Court, including assurances that R
Britain’s Home Secretary James Cleverly (left), and Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta shake hands after signing a new treaty in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday. The treaty will address concerns by the Supreme Court, including assurances that Rwanda will not remove anybody transferred under the partnership to another country.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
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LONDON (AP):

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was under pressure Friday to explain why Britain has paid Rwanda £240 million (US$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 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 UK 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 to Rwanda in the 2023-24 financial year and expects to hand over £50 million 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 UK 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 that this year, and 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.

The bill, which has its first vote scheduled in the House of Commons on Tuesday, has roiled the governing Conservative Party, which is trailing the Labour opposition in opinion polls, with an election due in the next year.

It faces opposition from centrist Conservative lawmakers who worry about Britain breaching its human rights obligations.

But the bigger danger for Sunak comes from Conservatives on the party’s authoritarian right wing who think the bill is too mild and want the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Almost every European country, apart from Russia and Belarus, is bound by the convention and its court.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick piled pressure on the prime minister when he quit the government this week, saying the bill did not go far enough.

Sunak insists the bill goes as far as the government can without scuttling the deal because Rwanda will pull out of the agreement if the UK breaks international law.