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25 June, 2024
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UK Prime Minister confirms delay in Rwanda deportation flights

''Rwanda deportation pushed to summer'', says PM Sunak

Source: The Guardian

The Rwanda deportation scheme will not begin until the summer, Rishi Sunak admitted on Monday, acknowledging a further delay to the policy even as MPs and peers began debating it for the final time.

The prime minister told a press conference that the first flights taking asylum seekers to Kigali would not take off for another 10 to 12 weeks, despite having promised they would do so in the spring.

Sunak announced his revised timetable hours before MPs began what he insisted would be a final day of debate on the Rwanda bill, with members in the Commons and the Lords braced for a long night of debate.

“Enough is enough,” Sunak said. “No more prevarication, no more delay. Parliament will sit there tonight and vote no matter how late it goes. No ifs, no buts.”

“Starting from the moment that the bill passes, we will begin the process of removing those identified for the first flight. We have prepared for this moment.”

Sunak has put the Rwanda scheme at the centre of his promise to stop people crossing the Channel in small boats, despite warnings that even the threat of deportation would not deter desperate people from attempting to do so.

He said on Monday that his policy would only be considered a success if the crossings stopped entirely. “Success is when the boats have been stopped,” he said. “That’s what the country expects.”

With the Conservatives more than 20 points behind in the polls, some on the Tory benches are hoping the successful start of the Rwanda scheme will provide an electoral boost and shift the focus on to Labour’s migration policies.

Sunak on Monday sought to blame the Labour party for the numerous delays to the start of the scheme, even though the government had the parliamentary time to push it through earlier.

“If Labour peers had not spent weeks holding up the bill in the House of Lords to try to block these flights altogether, we would have begun this process weeks ago,” he said.

MPs and peers were preparing on Monday to sit long into the night debating whether the Rwanda bill, which declares the east African country safe for deportations, should be amended.

After some parliamentary ping-pong, defiant peers dug in their heels at about 9pm and told MPs to think again for a fifth time.

The House of Lords backed by 240 votes to 211 a requirement that the east African country could not be treated as safe until the secretary of state, having consulted an independent monitoring body, made a statement to parliament to that effect.

However, the opposition did not press its demand for the bill to include an exemption from removal for Afghan nationals who assisted British troops after what critics hailed as a concession.

A Home Office minister said the government would not send those who are eligible under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) to Rwanda.

Lord Sharpe told peers: “Once this review of Arap decisions for those with credible links to Afghan specialist units has concluded, the government will not remove to Rwanda those who received a positive eligibility decision as a result of this review where they are already in the UK as of today.”

Earlier Jeremy Wright, a Conservative former attorney general, told MPs during the debate: “This bill covers only the first determination of safety, and provides no mechanism for parliament to change its mind if circumstances change.”

Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, condemned the scheme entirely, saying: “Respect and decency for anyone – whether it’s in relation to our nation to asylum seekers or indeed to the British taxpayer – is not something that this prime minister and his government hold in any regard whatsoever.”

However, Labour has said it will not kill the bill entirely in the Lords, reducing the incentive for the government to offer last-minute concessions to any potential rebels.

Officials are hoping the bill will receive royal assent later this week, after which they expect weeks of legal challenges before flights can start within three months.

The prime minister said an airfield was on standby and that charter flights had been booked to take asylum seekers on the one-way trip to Rwanda within three months. Flights would start taking off by early July, he said, and then do so at a “regular rhythm” several times a month after that.

He added there was increased court capacity to deal with any legal cases “quickly and decisively”, including 25 courtrooms and 150 judges who could provide 5,000 sitting days. The government has also increased detention spaces to 2,200 and tasked 500 officials with escorting people to Rwanda.

Ministers have been trying to find other countries with which to sign similar deals in the future. Discussions have already begun with Armenia, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and Botswana.

The Armenian government said on Monday it had decided not to pursue such a deal, however, partly on the basis that it believes it already has enough issues with refugees.

Since September 2023 Armenia has been seeking to assimilate more than 100,000 refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh who were driven out of the region by soldiers from Azerbaijan.

[Source: The Guardian]

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