UK asylum seekers policy in Rwanda explained: who pays, is it legal and what’s next?


Britain’s first ferry flight to Rwanda tonight has been in limbo following a legal battle between asylum seekers and the Home Office.

130 people arriving in Britain – mostly in small boats – were told they would be forced into a one-way ticket to the East African nation.

A spate of litigation brought the number down to about seven as of Tuesday noon, and No. 10 could not rule out canceling the plane.

But Home Office sources promised the flight – which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds – would go ahead even if there was only one person on board.

And the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court all rejected requests for an injunction to block the flight as a whole.

A protester holds a placard with a drawing of Paddington Bear during the demonstration at the Home Office


Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock)

Church of England leaders, including the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, branded it an “immoral” plan that would “shame Britain”.

But Boris Johnson said people who oppose the policy are “effectively supporting the work of the criminal gangs”.

So what is the policy, how will it actually work, and why are people saying it’s ineffective? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the deportation policy in Rwanda?

The UK signed a five-year deal for Rwanda to take in unwanted British asylum seekers, effective from April 2022.

Anyone the Home Office deems “ineligible” to seek asylum in the UK can be deported to Rwanda on a one-way charter flight.

They have no way of applying for asylum in the UK – and instead have to apply for asylum in Rwanda.

The scheme focuses on people who have come to the UK by ‘illegal’ means such as small boats in the English Channel or refrigerated trucks.

They will be held in detention centers in the UK before being forced onto a flight to Rwanda with five days’ notice.

The first arrivals are to be housed at a hostel called Hope House in the capital Kigali, which has 50 twin rooms and shared toilets, while they apply for Rwandan asylum, which takes three months. You will not be detained.

The first arrivals are to be accommodated in a hostel called Hope House in the capital Kigali (picture).



is it legal

The Home Office claims it’s legal, as new rules were waved through last year.

A post-Brexit reorganization made it easier to consider people “ineligible” to seek asylum if they passed through a “safe third country” on their way here.

That cuts off her application for British refugee status at the first hurdle.

People deemed ‘ineligible’ can be sent back to the country they transited en route to the UK. But crucially, the new rules say they can also be taken to “any” other safe country “that may agree to take them”. This is the legal basis for sending people to Rwanda.

Interior Minister Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta at the signing of the agreement


AFP via Getty Images)

Will it be declared illegal?

It could.

The High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have all declined to grant an injunction banning the maiden flight on April 14.

But they haven’t heard any arguments about whether the policy itself is legitimate. These are due to begin in July before the High Court.

If the policy fails in court, it could lead to an absurd situation where asylum seekers are flown out to Rwanda – only to be flown back weeks later.

Courts were given “assurances” that if the directive is later found to be illegal, steps will be taken to bring back any migrants who were flown under it.

Protesters outside the Royal Courts of Justice, where legal claims are flooding


Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock)

Who pays for the refugee flights to Rwanda and how much will they cost?

UK taxpayers pay for the policy – and it doesn’t come cheap.

The deal itself pays the Rwandan government an “initial” £120m, but this is for things like integrating people into Rwandan society.

It doesn’t appear to include processing and detention while people are still in the UK, or the hundreds of thousands spent on every charter flight.

The Home Office spent £6.3million on 38 charter flights to deport or deport people from January 1 to July 28 last year – nearly £167,000 per flight.

But the cost of flights to Rwanda will be higher because the vast majority of these flights went only to Eastern Europe.

The Home Office spent £6.3million on 38 charter flights to deport or deport people from January 1 to July 28 last year – nearly £167,000 per flight. Pictured: protesters


Hesther Ng/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock)

That bill also excluded the cost of “escorts” to ensure people who are forced to leave the UK don’t escape or harm themselves or others.

The Home Office insists the asylum system costs £1.5bn a year by comparison, including £5m a day in hotel bills.

A Home Office source argued, “Can people really put a price on the cost of saving lives and securing our country’s borders?”.

How many people are sent to Rwanda?

Apparently far fewer than the ministers boasted.

Boris Johnson told journalists Rwanda has “the capacity” to host tens of thousands over “the coming years”.

But Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab later admitted it’s “closer to the hundreds” each year.

The first flight is an example of numbers being reduced due to repeated legal challenges on behalf of individuals.

For context: At the end of December, 100,000 asylum seekers were waiting for an initial decision from the Ministry of the Interior.

Protesters outside No. 10


Agency Anadolu via Getty Images)

Can people refuse to go to Rwanda?

No, unless they have legally blocked their deportation.

There will be exceptions, children will not be sent and officials insist families will not be separated.

But both men and women can be sent, as can LGBT+ refugees, victims of modern slavery, and even refugees from Rwanda itself.

The UK does not have to take people back unless it is “legally obliged” to do so (e.g. if the policy is found illegal).

Will Rwanda send people to Britain in return?

Yes. Under the deal, Britain will relocate “a portion” of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees to Britain in a “reciprocal” deal.

No10 could not say whether this could mean that more asylum seekers from Rwanda would end up coming to the UK than vice versa.

However, Home Office sources have previously said the number of people under this part of the deal would be in the tens, not the hundreds.

Home Secretary Priti Patel celebrates the Queen’s Jubilee



Can Rwanda refuse to accept people?

Yes. For example, if they have a criminal record, Rwanda may refuse to send someone from the UK.

Rwanda can also reject an applicant’s application for asylum after they have already been deported from the UK and placed in a Rwandan home.
If successful, refugees in Rwanda would receive “full rights” and “help for full integration,” the interior ministry said.

Failing this, they could apply to settle in Rwanda on a non-refugee route – but could be deported to “their country of origin or another country where they have a right to reside”. And this despite the fact that many are fleeing war or persecution.

Priti Patel argued that there are already 130,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Rwanda, which welcomes many fleeing persecution.

Why will it “not work”?

The policy will only send a small proportion of people arriving in Britain to Rwanda – so it will not ‘solve’ the refugee crisis.

5,000 have arrived on small boats since January alone – and 100,000 were waiting for an asylum decision.

While Boris Johnson claims it will put others off, he admitted the number of small boat arrivals was “unlikely” to drop to zero any time soon.

Home Office sources say it is less about the outcome of each case and more about the message it sends to people smugglers.

However, critics argue that the huge costs may outweigh the “benefits” as each case is fraught with logistical and legal hurdles.

Azmina Siddique of the Children’s Society added: “We are particularly concerned about children who may be misjudged as adults.”

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