UK home secretary signs new asylum treaty in Rwanda

James Cleverly visits Rwanda after a UK court ruling declared a deportation scheme to the East African nation illegal.

British Home Secretary James Cleverly tours the Kigali Genocide Memorial
British Home Secretary James Cleverly tours the Kigali Genocide Memorial during his visit to Kigali, Rwanda, to sign a new treaty with Rwanda, on December 5, 2023 [Ben Birchall/Reuters]

British Home Secretary James Cleverly has signed a new treaty to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after the United Kingdom’s top court declared the deportation scheme unlawful.

The agreement was signed by Cleverly, who travelled to Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Tuesday, and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta.

The details of the new agreement were not immediately available but British media reports said it would include commitments by Rwanda regarding the treatment of asylum-seekers and other migrants sent there.

Cleverly said he expected migrants to start arriving in the coming months.

“I can see no reason why that should not happen,” he told reporters in response to a question about whether a plane would soon be carrying asylum seekers to the African nation.

The Rwanda plan is at the centre of the government’s strategy to cut migration and is being watched closely by other countries considering similar policies.

But the UK’s Supreme Court last month ruled that such a move would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.

Since that ruling, Britain has been seeking to renegotiate its agreement with Rwanda to include a binding treaty that it would not expel asylum seekers sent there by Britain – one of the court’s major concerns.

“Rwanda cares deeply about the rights of refugees,” Cleverly said as he arrived in Kigali on Tuesday morning. “I look forward to meeting with counterparts to sign this agreement and further discuss how we work together to tackle the global challenge of illegal migration.”

Alain Mukuralinda, deputy spokesman for Rwanda’s government, said the two countries would “set up a joint tribunal with both Rwandan and UK judges in Kigali … to make sure that none of the immigrants sent to Rwanda is deported to their country.”

“This tribunal will have to be approved and voted [on] by parliaments from both countries,” he added.

Under the plan, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda to deter migrants and refugees from crossing the English Channel from Europe in small boats.

In return, the African nation has received an initial payment of 140 million pounds ($180m) with the promise of more money to fund the accommodation and care of any deported individuals.

Supreme Court decision

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure to cut net migration, which hit a record 745,000 last year, and end the flow of asylum seekers who pay people smugglers for their Channel crossings, often in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats.

The UK Supreme Court decision last month was a major setback for Sunak, who also plans to pass “emergency legislation” in parliament to designate Rwanda a safe country.

Britain’s immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the government had to act because those arriving on small boats were effectively breaking into the country.

“The law says you can’t enter the country illegally. If you or I crossed an international border, we literally broke into another country, we would expect to be treated very seriously,” he told Sky News.

A last-minute European Court of Human Rights injunction prevented any deportations in June 2022. The plan has also been criticised by Human Rights Watch, which urged the British government on Tuesday to “open its eyes to Rwanda’s track record of human rights violations, including against refugees and asylum seekers”.

Source: News Agencies