The home secretary has travelled to Rwanda today to double down on the government's determination to start deporting asylum seekers there, as Amy Lewis reports
Suella Braverman is making plans to deport migrants to Rwanda by the summer as she expands the widely-criticised deportation policy to include all illegal migrants.
A Home Office source said “we are certainly working towards getting the flights off before the summer”, adding that the home secretary acknowledged it was dependent on the pending legal battles.
“We’re working to make this happen as soon as possible, and there is every possibility that we can move quickly if we get a good line of judgment in our favour,” she told reporters.
No migrants have been relocated to the country so far after the deal was signed last April by Ms Braverman’s predecessor Priti Patel.
It comes as Ms Braverman expanded the agreement with Rwanda to incorporate all those illegally entering the UK as opposed to solely asylum seekers.
The addition to the deal is to be put in place to ensure illegal entrants would be detained and swiftly removed under the Illegal Migration Bill (IMB), irrespective of the claim they bring – including asylum, human rights, modern slavery or nothing at all.
Speaking in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on her first official visit as home secretary, Ms Braverman also said the IMB as it stands “does not take us out of the ECHR (European Convention of Human Rights)”, but added: “Nothing is off the table, ultimately.”
She said there are “serious issues with the balance that’s currently being struck” with the Strasbourg courts.
Her trip was blasted by Labour as an "expensive PR stunt" and criticised as a "showboat trip" by charity Freedom from Torture after the Independent said outlets such as the BBC, The Guardian and Daily Mirror were not invited.
The IMB is due to bring forward the removal of migrants in a period of 28 days – and asked whether this would see those appealing against their relocation fly back to Britain, Ms Braverman said: “The Bill dramatically, dramatically reduces the opportunity for people to make spurious claims.”
“There will be significantly limited opportunities to challenge that,” she added.
On Saturday, Ms Braverman visited housing which is set to be used for migrants – with properties equipped with gardens, off-street parking and capacity for fibre-optic broadband.
The cheapest houses on the Riverside Estate in Kigali would cost potential buyers £14,000 and are due to be offered to both asylum seekers and Rwandans.
Migrants arriving from the UK would be housed in hostels and hotels in the short term, before moving onto long-term housing arrangements.
The visit came as 209 people were confirmed to have crossed the Channel in small boats on Friday, after five days of no reported crossings.
“I think that Rwanda is clearly ready. We saw that at the Riverside estate,” Ms Braverman said. “We’re seeing that there’s real progress, which has been made in real tangible terms.”
During her trip, the home secretary is due to meet President Paul Kagame to discuss the deal, after meeting her Rwandan counterpart Vincent Biruta on Saturday.
Speaking about flights potentially taking off by the summer, Ms Braverman said: “In terms of flights, we are still in a court timetable. We’re waiting for the Court of Appeal’s substantive hearing later next month.
“There will then be time for judgment to be handed down by the Court of Appeal. Flights could take off.”
Rwanda government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told reporters she did not “consider living in Rwanda as punishment”- adding that the African nation signed up to the agreement for “the right reasons”.
Asked whether she was in discussions with other nations to enter into further partnerships in order to implement the IMB, Ms Braverman said: “As you’ve heard, the capacity for Rwanda is in the region of thousands.
“We believe that that is sufficient to deal with the challenge that we’re facing in the UK, but we are always in constructive dialogue with many nations around the world.”
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