Foreign soldiers who fought for UK must be exempt from Rwanda plan, ministers told

A group of people thought to be migrants being brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel
Credit: PA

Foreign soldiers who fight for the UK then flee to Britain for their safety must be exempt from the Rwanda deportation scheme, ministers have been urged.

Lord Stirrup, the former chief of the defence staff, warned that the threat of troops being deported, as has happened following the retreat from Afghanistan, may dissuade future co- operation.

Other peers urged ministers to also exclude victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and unaccompanied migrant children, from the remit of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

Ex-armed forces chief Lord Stirrup urged peers to back an amendment to the Bill excluding those who have “put themselves in harm’s way to support His Majesty’s Armed Forces” as well as their families, from the deportation scheme. The crossbench peer said: “If global Britain is to be effective in the world, it will need to form partnerships with and gain support from people in all sorts of different parts of that world, often in very difficult and dangerous parts of that world.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is 'absolutely committed' to his Rwanda scheme. Credit: PA

“In order to garner such support, it will need to be seen as trustworthy. How trustworthy does anybody think we will be seen if we have taken those who have already served us so faithfully in such difficult circumstances and sent them to Rwanda? “So for those who are not swayed by a sense of moral obligation, I ask you to consider the future effectiveness and safety of the men and women of our armed forces who are sent out to do such difficult and dangerous things in these parts of the world.” Labour former minister Lord Browne of Ladyton had claimed some who fought with UK forces in Afghanistan had “already been threatened with deportation to Rwanda”, sharing the story of an Afghan pilot who flew in 30 combat missions against the Taliban, but who found it impossible to access a safe route to asylum in the UK.He said the pilot's application for Arap (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) was originally rejected, prompting the US department of state to reach out and consider granting asylum after the UK Home Office threatened deportation to Rwanda.

“The embarrassment of that is shocking, that the Americans were reaching out to our allies and those who worked with us to rescue them from what we should be moving to do,” he added.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

Former top judge Baroness Butler-Sloss warned that victims of modern slavery and human trafficking not being exempt from the scheme would have “a devastating effect on victims and also on the United Kingdom’s ability to deal with the perpetrators of this heinous crime”. John Gummer, a Tory former environment secretary who sits in the House of Lords as Lord Deben, told peers: “I must say I am a bit tired of having to remind this government of what it means to be a Conservative. I have had to do that earlier on, on the single market, and I am now doing it on this. “We have a reputation in the world because of our Modern Slavery Act. It was a brave and important thing to do. It was welcomed across the whole House. “I am proud that it was a Conservative government that did this, I am not proud that there is a Conservative government undermining that when we know that more than three quarters of those who appeal in these circumstances are found to be right in their appeal.”

Elsewhere in the debate, former diplomat and civil servant Lord Kerr of Kinlochard said Rwandans who seek asylum in the UK should not be sent back to Rwanda.

The crossbencher said if this was made possible by the Bill then “we ought to be ashamed of ourselves”.

Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said the government understood its “moral obligation” to help people who had supported the UK armed forces overseas, pointing to legal routes set up to help them, such as Arap. However, he added: “A person who arrives in the UK illegally should not be able to make the UK their home and eventually settle here. “Regardless of the contribution they have previously made, a person who chooses to come to the UK illegally, particularly if they have a safe and legal route available, should be liable for removal to a safe country.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.