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14 Dec, 2023 10:17

British MPs back Rwanda immigration bill

The emergency law was drafted in response to UK court concerns about the safety of migrant resettlement in the African country
British MPs back Rwanda immigration bill

British lawmakers have endorsed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s proposed emergency legislation to deport thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda in East Africa. The House of Commons voted 313 to 269 in favor of the Safety of Rwanda Bill on Tuesday, effectively passing the measure at its first parliamentary hearing.

The draft law, which was released last week after Britain signed a new treaty with the Rwandan government, aims to address UK Supreme Court concerns that the plan to deport illegal immigrants to the African nation for resettlement is unlawful. The court had claimed in a recent ruling that people sent to Rwanda under the asylum policy would face the threat of being returned to their home countries.

The Home Office says the new legislation clarifies that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers and that illegal migrants crossing the English Channel can be removed swiftly. Home Secretary James Cleverly has also signed a new legally binding agreement with the African country prohibiting it from deporting asylum seekers to a third country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

However, the Safety of Rwanda Bill has been criticized, including by lawmakers from Sunak’s Conservative Party, who have called for it to override domestic and international laws that challenge the scheme and prevent flights from departing for Rwanda.

Last week, Robert Jenrick resigned as Britain’s immigration minister in protest at the bill, which he said “did not go far enough” to prevent illegal migrant boats from entering the UK. In his resignation letter, Jenrick claimed that by failing to override international law and allowing migrants to challenge their deportation in court, the bill would not “end the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralyzing the scheme.

Britain has had Conservative prime ministers for 13 years, all of whom have made pledges to reduce illegal immigration. However, numbers have skyrocketed, with nearly 46,000 migrants arriving by sea last year. The Rwanda scheme is part of Sunak’s broader strategy to address voter concerns about the number of asylum seekers landing on British shores ahead of an election next year. The British government has paid Rwanda at least £140 million ($175 million) as part of the plan, but no flights have left for the African country. The European Court of Human Rights blocked the first flight to Rwanda from taking off last summer.

In response to MPs’ support for what he called “the toughest ever anti-immigration law,” Sunak stated on Tuesday that “British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts.

That’s what this bill delivers. We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats,” British prime minister wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch UK director Yasmine Ahmed described the parliamentary decision as “a defeat for human decency and a hammer blow for the rule of law.”

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