UK plans to pay asylum seekers to move to Rwanda

Plans are separate from the ‘Rwanda bill’, a stalled plan to forcibly deport most asylum seekers to the African country.

The United Kingdom’s government is considering plans to pay asylum seekers whose applications have failed up to 3,000 British pounds ($3,840) to move to Rwanda.

The proposed scheme, part of a deal struck with Rwanda, was drawn up by ministers with the aim of clearing a backlog of tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have been refused the right to stay, but cannot be returned to countries deemed unsafe.

The plan is separate from the controversial “Rwanda bill“, an earlier plan to forcibly deport most asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Instead, it extends an existing policy in which people are offered financial assistance to return to their home countries.

According to the Home Office, 19,000 people were removed voluntarily from the UK in the past year. Under the new extension, people will receive the money if they agree to live in Rwanda, which the UK government considers to be a safe third country despite reports from rights groups on political oppression.

“We are exploring voluntary relocations for those who have no right to be here to Rwanda,” a Home Office statement said.

Rejected asylum seekers could not work legally in the UK but would apparently be allowed to do so in Rwanda and be eligible for five years of additional support agreed in the 2022 deportation plan.

Kevin Hollinrake, a junior business minister, said on Wednesday that the new policy was a good use of public money. “So, 3,000 pounds, of course that’s a lot of money, but nevertheless, it costs a lot of money to keep people in the UK who are failed asylum seekers,” he told LBC Radio.

Unlawful plans

The scheme was formulated as the government grapples with legal challenges to the “Rwanda bill”, which was last year ruled unlawful by the UK’s Supreme Court as it would violate British and international human rights laws.

A protestor holds a placard outside of the Supreme Court, on the day the Supreme Court delivers its ruling on whether the government can go ahead with its plan to deport migrants to Rwanda, in London, Britain, November 15, 2023
A protester holds a placard outside of the Supreme Court, on the day the court delivered its ruling on whether the government could go ahead with its plan to deport migrants to Rwanda, in London, the United Kingdom, on November 15, 2023 [Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

In an effort to overcome resistance from the courts, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government is passing legislation through Parliament that would block further legal challenges by declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country for asylum seekers.

Rwanda currently has the capacity to accept a few hundred asylum seekers a year from the UK, the British government has said, adding the capacity could be increased.

Sunak has said he wants the first deportation flights to leave in the next few months – ahead of a national election expected in the second half of this year.

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