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What is the U.K. plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?

In World
April 23, 2024

London — The British parliament passed a law late Monday that will mean asylum seekers arriving on British shores without prior permission can be sent to Rwanda and forbidden from ever returning to the U.K. The British government says the law will act as deterrent to anyone trying to enter the U.K. “illegally.”

The contentious program was voted through after the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled it to be unlawful, and it has been condemned by human rights groups and the United Nations refugee agency.

King Charles III, who now must give the Rwanda bill his royal ascent to make it an official law, reportedly criticized the plan as “appalling” almost two years ago as it took shape.

Hours after the law was passed, French officials said at least five people drowned, including a child, in the English Channel during an attempt to make it to the U.K. on an overcrowded small boat.

Why would the U.K. send asylum seekers to Rwanda?

The Rwanda plan was put together by Britain’s Conservative government in response to a number of migrant and asylum seeker arrivals on British shores in small boats from France.

With local asylum programs underfunded and overwhelmed, the government has been housing asylum seekers in hotels, where they are effectively trapped and unable to work until their claims are processed, which can take years. These hotels cost the government around 8 million pounds — almost $10 million in taxpayer money — every day to rent, according to CBS News partner BBC News.

A protester holds a placard mocking the government's Rwanda plan for asylum seekers during a demonstration in Parliament Square, London, March 13, 2024. / Credit: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

A protester holds a placard mocking the government’s Rwanda plan for asylum seekers during a demonstration in Parliament Square, London, March 13, 2024. / Credit: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government says the Rwanda policy will act as a deterrent to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from trying to reach the U.K. in the first place.

What is the U.K.’s Rwanda law?

The new policy will give Britain’s immigration authorities power to send any asylum seeker entering the U.K. “illegally” after January 2022 to Rwanda. Those individuals can also be forbidden from ever applying for asylum in the U.K.

It will apply to anyone who arrives in the U.K. without prior permission — anyone who travels on a small boat or truck — even if their aim is to claim asylum and they have legitimate grounds to do so.

These people can, under the new law, be immediately sent to Rwanda, 4,000 miles away in East Africa, to have their asylum claim processed there. Under the law they could be granted refugee status in Rwanda and allowed to stay.

What are the issues with the Rwanda law?

The law has been the subject of intense controversy and political wrangling.

In November 2023, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled the program was unlawful and violated the European Convention on Human Rights, because it said genuine refugees would be at risk of being deported back to their home countries, where they could face harm. The judgment also cited concerns with Rwanda’s human rights record.

The final legislation passed late Monday orders the court to ignore parts of the Human Rights Act and other U.K. and international rules, such as the Refugee Convention, that would also block the deportations to Rwanda, the BBC reported.

Rights groups have said they will launch legal challenges against deporting people to Rwanda as quickly as possible. This could delay any removal flights.

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