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Nothing will stand in the way of Rwanda flights: UK PM Rishi Sunak, read why he is firm on deporting illegal migrants

Rwanda said it was “pleased” to see the bill passed and was looking forward to “welcoming those relocated to Rwanda”.

On Tuesday (23rd April), UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed the passage of his government’s Safety of Rwanda Bill by the British Parliament. Sunak pledged that nothing would stand in the way of deporting illegal migrants to Rwanda. Notably, the UK’s House of Lords (upper House) passed the legislative bill late at night on Monday (22nd April). The legislation has faced two years of legal battles and was earlier ruled illegal by the UK Supreme Court in November last year. However, the recent bill overrides the Supreme Court ruling as well as any future ruling from the UK top court.   

In a statement issued by Downing Street, Rishi Sunak said, “The passing of this landmark legislation is not just a step forward but a fundamental change in the global equation on migration.” 

Sunak added, “We introduced the Rwanda Bill to deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit them. The passing of this legislation will allow us to do that and make it very clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.” 

Rishi Sunak further stated that the UK government is now focused on getting flights off the ground. He emphasised, “I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives.”  

On its part, Rwanda said it was “pleased” to see the bill passed and was looking forward to “welcoming those relocated to Rwanda”. However, the UK’s principal opposition Labour Party, Human rights groups in Britain, as well as the European Union, have opposed the deportation bill with rights groups describing the legislation as inhumane and cruel.  

Content of the Rwanda Bill

Under the legislation titled Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, migrants arriving illegally on UK shores would be deported to Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda. The legislation allows the government to put illegal migrants on one-way flights to the African nation. The claims of these illegal migrants will then be processed by the authorities in Rwanda. 

However, even if they were granted refugee status, they would be resettled in Rwanda, not Britain.

The Bill will reportedly get the Royal assent within a few weeks. It essentially says that Rwanda is a “safe” third country. According to the government’s fact-sheet, the Bill was introduced to respond “to the Supreme Court’s concerns and will allow Parliament to confirm the status of the Republic of Rwanda as a safe third country”.

While Rights group opposes deportation, the bill tries to overcome opposition/legal challenges

Despite the passage of the bill, deportation attempts would still encounter a flurry of further legal challenges and mounting pressure from rights groups making it tough to deport all the illegal immigrants back to Rwanda. Additionally, on its part, the Labour Party has vowed to scrap the law if it comes into power. The critics have also raised questions on the implementation and economic feasibility of these deportation bids.  

David Anderson is a barrister and member of the House of Lords who is not affiliated with any party and he opposed the law. He said, “You can’t make a country safe just by saying it’s safe. That is absolutely absurd.”

In a statement, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs said, “UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum-seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards. Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.” 

Furthermore, in November 2023, the British Supreme Court ruled that the small country of Rwanda was an unsafe place to send those arriving in small boats on the southern British coast and that the government’s plan would breach British and international law.

To overcome the legal challenges, the legislation now instructs judges and immigration officials to “conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country”. It also gives the government the power to disregard future rulings by international courts. Additionally, there are no provisions to amend it if conditions in Rwanda change. 

Another opposition is from the European Union body. As per reports, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) could move to block the deportation flights to Rwanda. Earlier, in 2022, ECHR had stopped the first plane from departing the UK for Rwanda. Its ruling also barred the UK from removing migrants through such a scheme until the completion of the legal battle against it in Britain.

Regarding ECHR’s opposition, Rishi Sunak ruled out any foreign court intervention. As per reports, this implied that the UK was ready to reconsider its membership of the ECHR if required.

Rishi Sunak firm to go through with this Legislation, a flagship policy of the Conservative party

Despite massive challenges and opposition, media reports hail this as a major political victory for the ruling Conservative party in general, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in particular, as he made a political vow to ‘Stop the boats‘ from ferrying illegal migrants into the United Kingdom.

As elections in the UK set to take place late this year, Conservative Party has been relying on its tough stance against the rising menace of illegal immigrants to woo voters. The party has been pushing this deportation legislation for years. The plan was first introduced in 2022, under then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

In April 2022, Boris Johnson signed a deal with the Rwandan government to allow the UK to send some ‘asylum-seekers’ to Rwanda. He had hailed this move as one that would “save countless lives” from human trafficking, given the dangerous circumstances in which they attempt to enter the UK.

As per reports, virtually all the senior leadership of the Conservative party have made efforts over the years to pass this legislation. Priti Patel, who was then Britain’s Home Secretary — an office that oversees immigration and Britain’s asylum system — introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill in Parliament. Later, Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Migration Bill. Now, the current Tory leader Sunak has managed to pass it through the UK parliament making it a huge win for him before the elections. 

Rishi Sunak insisted on Monday that the government would operate multiple charter flights every month, starting in 10 to 12 weeks. 

In a Downing Street press briefing on Monday, Sunak declared there were “no ifs, no buts” about using the Rwanda legislation “come what may” to ensure such migrants can be deterred once the message goes out that they would not be able to stay on in the UK.

Rishi Sunak said, “These flights are going to Rwanda. We are going to deliver this indispensable deterrent so that we finally break the business model of the criminal gangs and save lives.” 

His government asserted that it has addressed the Supreme Court’s concerns through a treaty with the Rwandans last December. 

Additionally, to register a policy win before elections, the UK government has reportedly paid its Rwandan counterpart millions of pounds for housing and integrating the migrants as part of the pilot scheme, which was to initially last for five years.

The UK government has reportedly paid £290 million to its Rwandan counterpart, even though the plan has yet to be implemented due to legal challenges and criticisms. According to The Guardian earlier this week, the UK government is set to pay an additional £50 million if the bill is passed.

Nonetheless, amid the political heat intensifying over the deportation bill, French media reported on Tuesday (23rd April) morning that five individuals have died while attempting to cross the English Channel toward the UK from an area near the town of Wimereux in France. The French coastguard stated that they were unable to determine the exact number of individuals involved but confirmed the presence of several “lifeless bodies.”

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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