In 2022, the British government headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a plan to send migrants to Rwanda, 6,500 kilometers away, to await their asylum procedures. For 140 million euros, the African country will provide shelter for thousands of migrants. This policy should act as a deterrent to migrants trying to cross the Channel from France in inflatable boats. But so far the plans seem to be turning into a complete failure.
The asylum flight has been cancelled
This week, the British Supreme Court once again considered the question of whether the deportation of migrants to Rwanda is illegal. The court has ruled on this case at least three times before. The first two times it looked like asylum flights would be approved. But earlier this year, British appeal judges ruled that the measure was against the law. Another setback for the British government.
Two months after the announcement of asylum procedures in 2022, the first obstacles became clearly visible. A plane was waiting on the tarmac of a British military airport to transport dozens of asylum seekers to Rwanda. Knowing that many migrants relied on the fact that they were victims of people smuggling or had family living in the UK, the British Home Office removed one migrants after another from the passenger list. In the week before departure, the list shrank from dozens of refugees to a handful.
One passenger on board
Meanwhile, it became clear that not all was well in Rwanda. The day before departure, it became clear that the country was unable to fulfill its commitment to provide translators within the country. For example, the African country still lacks Vietnamese and Albanian interpreters.
With only one migrant on board, the entire flight was canceled just hours before departure when the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Rwanda could not be considered a safe country for asylum seekers.
But this does not mean the end of the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his home secretary, Suella Braverman, endorsed the Johnson government’s plan. In fact, Sunak has linked his political fate to asylum journeys. He promised the British to stop the continuous flow of migrant boats during his term as prime minister. Suella Braverman calls asylum trips her “dream.”
Rwanda: safe or not?
The British government is feeling hopeful when it comes to the latest legal case regarding asylum policy. Government officials are confident that the British Supreme Court will give the green light for the flights. A Home Office lawyer assured judges this week that Rwanda is a safe country where asylum seekers are treated well. The government also says it has guarantees that the African country will not return migrants to their country of origin, where they could be at risk.
Opponents of deportations think differently. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, say there is no room for political opposition in Rwanda. The freedom of the press in the country also leaves much to be desired. They believe that Rwanda offers no future for deprived asylum seekers.
But even if British judges approve the deportation flights, the success of Britain’s immigration policy remains uncertain. Recently, two airlines withdrew from operating flights to Rwanda. Flight and accommodation costs in Rwanda are around €70,000 higher than when migrants are waiting for asylum procedures in the UK. The intended deterrent effect is also not guaranteed.
The British Supreme Court ruling is expected in mid-December. Until then, Prime Minister Sunak and his Home Secretary will have to overcome many hurdles to describe Britain’s asylum policy as a success.