Fresh trouble for Sunak over Rwanda bill


The Safety of Rwanda Bill returns to the Lower House, triggering a democratic process referred to as parliamentary ping-pong between the two chambers…reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship legislation aimed at flying illegal migrants out to Rwanda, which has been plagued with delays and parliamentary hurdles, returns to the House of Commons on Monday on its journey towards becoming law.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill returns to the Lower House after the House of Lords made amendments and sent it back to the Commons, triggering a democratic process referred to as parliamentary ping-pong between the two chambers.

The peers want to water down the hardline legislation that seeks to deem the East African country safe in law to block legal challenges to migrants being flown out to Rwanda while their asylum claims are assessed.

It returns its voting journey as Parliament resumes after an Easter recess and the fresh wrangles over the bill unfold against the backdrop of small boat crossings by asylum seekers across the English Channel hitting a new daily high for 2024 – at 534 on Sunday. It will be seen as a fresh blow to Sunak, who has made “stopping the boats” a central plank of his leadership as the UK prepares for a general election later this year.

“We remain committed to building on the successes that saw arrivals drop by more than a third last year, including tougher legislation and agreements with international partners, in order to save lives and stop the boats,” said a Home Office spokesperson.

Flying out these migrants to Rwanda while their asylum claims are assessed is a key aspect of the Sunak-led government’s immigration strategy and expected to act as a significant deterrent for migrants making treacherous journeys to arrive at UK shores. However, two years after the plan was first announced, there is no clarity on the first flights taking off for the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

Meanwhile, a report in The Times on Monday references leaked government documents to claim that the UK plans to replicate the Rwanda migrant deportation scheme with other countries, with an initial list including Armenia, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and Botswana.

Several South American countries including Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil and Colombia have also been approached but are viewed as less likely to be interested in what the British government describes as a “third-country asylum processing deal”, the newspaper claims.

A list of African countries including Cape Verde, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Angola and Sierra Leone were put on a reserve list that would be approached if other targets failed. Some other African countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia and the Gambia are said to have “explicitly declined” to enter technical discussions.

A government spokesperson said Britain is “continuing to work with a range of international partners to tackle global illegal migration challenges”.

“Our focus right now is passing the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which builds on the Illegal Migration Act, and putting plans in place to get flights off the ground as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.

‘Doomed to fail’

Labour believes the scheme is flawed and intends to scrap it if it wins the general election, expected to be held later this year.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the Rwanda scheme is “doomed to fail” calling it “fundamentally unworkable, unaffordable and unlawful”.

Sir Keir Starmer has said he would instead focus on targeting criminal gangs and negotiating new security arrangements with Europe.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Kinnock said he hoped the Conservatives “will come to understand that hard graft and common sense are always more effective than the sugar rush of a tabloid front page”.

Meanwhile, charities supporting asylum seekers are also planning to launch legal challenges “as quickly as possible” against deporting people to the east-central African country if the bill becomes law this week.

Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti said the Lords amendments sought to improve the bill and did not attack “the central plank of the policy”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme her own amendment would restore “the jurisdiction of domestic courts, who are defenestrated by this bill”.

However, Conservative MP Sir John Hayes said legal appeals had been used to block deportations and “frustrate” the will of Parliament and government policy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly said flights to Rwanda would take off by spring, but refused to name a specific date.

Ministers believe the legislation will pave the way for the first removals to the country within weeks.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill declares the country safe and was introduced to Parliament after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the government’s scheme was unlawful.

In its ruling, the court said genuine refugees being deported there would be at risk of being returned to their home countries, where they could face harm.

The Rwanda scheme was originally introduced by then-Prime Minister Johnson in April 2022 with the aim of acting as a deterrent to people from arriving in the UK on small boats across the English Channel.

It has faced a number of legal challenges since, and so far no-one has been sent to the east African country under the scheme.

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