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24 Jan, 2024 10:12

UK-Rwanda immigration bill suffers setback

The House of Lords has voted in favor of delaying approval of the pact until ministers demonstrate that the African nation is safe
UK-Rwanda immigration bill suffers setback

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has received a setback to his flagship policy of deporting thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda under an agreement with the East African country. On Monday, the House of Lords voted 214 to 171 in favor of a motion urging parliament not to ratify a bill promoting Rwanda as a safe haven for refugees.

The upper house of the UK Parliament wants the treaty delayed until ministers can demonstrate that Kigali is safe.

The Rwanda plan, which has been stalled by a court ruling, is part of the government’s flagship 'stop the boats’ policy, which aims to reduce illegal immigration into the UK. Under the plan, immigrants arriving via the English Channel in small boats would be resettled in Rwanda.

Britain signed a new treaty with the Rwandan government to overcome the UK Supreme Court’s decision that the plan is unlawful and to address concerns that the African country is unsafe for asylum seekers. The bill seeks to direct judges to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act, as well as domestic and international law provisions, that might classify Rwanda as an unsafe country for deportation. It allows ministers to ignore orders from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to temporarily halt a flight to Rwanda during appeals hearings.

The bill passed the legislative stage in the House of Commons last week, despite opposition from Tory MPs including former home secretary Suella Braverman and ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who proposed tougher amendments.

The upper chamber’s vote on Monday, while largely symbolic, is the latest blow to Sunak’s desire to see the first deportation flights depart for Rwanda in the coming months, ahead of a general election scheduled for the second half of this year.

The considerations of international law and national reputation… convince me that it would not be right to ratify this treaty at any time; and arguments from history suggest that it would be very reckless to do so any time soon,said John Kerr, a former diplomat who sits in the House of Lords.

The Lords, who are appointed rather than elected, have the authority to delay and amend legislation but cannot overturn the decisions of elected House of Commons members. The House of Lords is expected to debate the bill next week.

Britain has paid Rwanda at least £240 million ($305 million) under the controversial deal reached two years ago, but no asylum seekers have been sent there.

Prime Minister Sunak stated on Thursday that he is prepared to disregard ECHR Rule 39, which imposes a temporary injunction on deportations.

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