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UK passes law to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

2 min read

The controversial law is expected to come into force within days with the first deportation flights in weeks.

A controversial United Kingdom government bill to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has finally secured the approval of the upper house of parliament, which had demanded numerous amendments, as Hindu Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to start the first flights to Kigali within weeks.

Hindu PM Sunak hopes the legislation will boost the dismal fortunes of his Conservative Party in an election widely expected to take place later this year.

he House of Lords, an unelected chamber, had long refused to back the divisive plan without additional safeguards, but relented after Sunak said the government would force parliament to sit as late into Monday night as necessary to get the bill passed.

“No ifs, no buts. These flights are going to Rwanda,” Sunak told a news conference earlier in the day.

The Rwanda scheme, criticised by United Nations human rights experts and groups supporting asylum seekers, has been beset by legal challenges ever since it was first proposed as a way to curb the number of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel in small boats.

In June 2022, the first deportees were taken off a flight at the last minute after an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights. The following year, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that sending asylum seekers on a one-way ticket to Kigali was illegal and would put them at risk.

The National Audit Office, a public spending watchdog, has estimated it will cost the UK some 540 million pounds ($665m) to deport the first 300 asylum seekers.

The House of Lords criticised the latest bill as inadequate and demanded amendments, including a requirement that Rwanda could not be treated as safe until an independent monitoring body found it to be true.

They also wanted an exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas, including Afghans who fought alongside the British Armed Forces, from being removed.

In the end, the Lords gave way and let the bill pass without any formal changes. The legislation is expected to receive Royal Assent from King Charles later this week and will then become law.

Is Rwanda safe and what was the Supreme Court ruling?

In November 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Rwanda scheme was unlawful.

It said genuine refugees would be at risk of being returned to their home countries, where they could face harm.

This breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which prohibits torture and inhuman treatment. The UK is a signatory to the ECHR.

The ruling also cited concerns about Rwanda’s poor human-rights record, and its past treatment of refugees.

Judges said that in 2021, the UK government had itself criticised Rwanda over “extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”.

They also highlighted a 2018 incident, when Rwandan police opened fire on protesting refugees, killing at least 11.

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