First migrants to be told they're bound for Rwanda as Patel says plan sends 'clear signal'

9 May 2022, 20:15 | Updated: 9 May 2022, 23:29

The first group of illegal migrants will be told this week that they are being sent to Rwanda
The first group of illegal migrants will be told this week that they are being sent to Rwanda. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Home Secretary Priti Patel has insisted the Government's plan to send migrants to Rwanda sends a "clear signal", with the first group to be told this week they will be relocated to the East African country.

Ms Patel said she would use "every tool and every piece of legislation at our disposal" to remove migrants who arrive in the UK "illegally", although she conceded the scheme will "take time" to implement.

The Home Office confirmed the first group will this week be informed of the Government's intention to relocate them.

First flights are expected in the coming months, the department said, adding that lawyers for some of those affected will likely lodge claims to stop removal.

Migrants who have crossed the Channel in small boats will be among those to be notified that they face a one-way ticket to Rwanda.

The Government "has the power to detain individuals pending their removal from the UK", the Home Office added.

Speaking during a visit to the Metropolitan Police specialist training centre in Gravesend, Kent, on Monday, Ms Patel said there were "barriers and hurdles" to overcome but the Government was determined to "remove those with no legal basis of being in the UK, to Rwanda".

Asked if it would be a long time before removals take place and whether she was confident the scheme would work, Ms Patel said: "I've said from day one, even when I signed the agreement and announced the partnership, that this will take time and it will take time for a range of reasons.

"We see various hurdles and barriers, mainly from specialist law firms that want to block the removal of individuals that have no right to be in our country. That is part of the techniques that they use.

"We see this day in day out, I see this with all the removals whether it's foreign national offenders, people that have caused harm and criminal offences against British citizens - these firms specialise in preventing their removal.

"So yes, there will be barriers... but... it is a determination of this government... through the changes in legislation to remove those individuals who have no legal right to be in our country.

"And when it comes to the issue of small boats, that is exactly why we changed our laws, that is why we have this partnership with Rwanda, because it's sending out a clear signal that those that come to our country illegally, they will have no right to remain in our country, and we will use every tool and every piece of legislation that we have at our disposal to make sure that we can remove them."

Described by Ms Patel as a "world-first" agreement when it was announced last month, the scheme will see asylum seekers who are deemed to have arrived in the UK "illegally" sent to Rwanda, where their claims will be processed.

If successful, they will be granted asylum or given refugee status in the country.

Those with failed bids will be offered the chance to apply for visas under other immigration routes if they wish to remain in Rwanda but could still face deportation.

Guidance published by the Home Office on Monday evening stated that Rwanda is "a safe country to relocate people to", although an assessment carried out before the UK-Rwanda agreement found "some concerns with its human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speech".

The Home Office said it will carry out a case-by-case risk assessment when determining someone's eligibility for relocation and take any vulnerabilities, including disabilities, sexual orientation and gender reassignment status, into account.

The department noted that transgender people "may face greater risk of ill-treatment such as arbitrary arrests and detention as well as degrading treatment", adding "no one will be relocated if it is unsafe or inappropriate".

There were also "concerns over the treatment of some LGBTQI+ people" in Rwanda, but this did not "amount to persecution or serious harm", the Home Office said.

It also pointed to unverified reports that LGBTQ+ asylum seekers had faced challenges in registering their claims, but said Rwanda had committed to treating all refugees equally and that "ongoing monitoring arrangements" are in place to manage the risk.

"We will continue to consider the impact on this group and take into account further evidence over the course of the partnership," the Home Office said.

Unaccompanied under-18s arriving in the UK will not be considered for relocation to Rwanda.

Anyone under consideration will receive a notice of intent, with the Home Office prioritising those arriving in the UK after May 9.

The UK is paying the processing costs for each person sent to Rwanda, including caseworkers, access to legal advice, translators, accommodation, food, healthcare and up to five years of training to help integration.

Read more: No migrant crossings detected for nine days - but unclear if Rwanda deal is behind it

Ms Patel added in a statement on Monday evening: "The world-leading migration partnership with Rwanda means those making dangerous, unnecessary and illegal journeys to the UK may be relocated to Rwanda to have their claims for asylum considered and to rebuild their lives there, helping break the people smugglers' business model and prevent loss of life.

"This is just the first stage of the process and we know it will take time as some will seek to frustrate the process and delay removals.

"I will not be deterred from acting to deliver on the changes the British people voted for to take back control of our money, laws and borders."

Previously the Prime Minister reportedly said he wanted to see the first flights take off by the end of May, but officials are still unable to say when exactly removals could begin and how many people the Government is initially seeking to deport.

Boris Johnson said tens of thousands of people could be flown to Rwanda under the agreement.

But The Times reported that modelling by Home Office officials indicated that only 300 a year could be sent there.

The department later said it did not recognise the figure and there was no cap on the number of people who may be sent to Rwanda.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action - which is one of the organisations threatening legal action against the plan, said: "There's nothing 'world-first' about this agreement - it's a neo-colonial embarrassment that seeks to trade black and brown refugees for money with a country whose human rights record is abysmal.

"Terrible harm is already being done - people are terrified of receiving these letters, including asylum seeking children who have arrived in the UK on their own. We'll see the Government in court."

On Friday, activists accused Ms Patel of "racist" and "inhumane" policies and called on her to scrap the Rwanda deal during a speech she was giving at a Conservative Party dinner.

At least 7,739 people have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel this year so far, according to a PA news agency analysis of government figures.

This is more than three times the amount that had arrived in the same period in 2021 (2,439).