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UK Home Secretary visits Rwanda as asylum deal remains mired in legal challenges

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This picture shows Conservative UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman upon arrival at the airport in Rwanda's capital city, Kigali, on March 18, 2023.

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman has traveled to Rwanda to discuss a controversial agreement which would allow the UK to detain and deport asylum seekers to the African nation, an arrangement decried by the UN refugee agency as an “asylum ban” and a "clear breach" of international law.

Braverman accompanied by journalists with right-wing titles arrived in Kigali on Saturday where she was greeted by the permanent secretary to Rwanda’s foreign ministry Clementine Mukeka, and the British high commissioner to Rwanda Omar Daair.

Before departing, Braverman reaffirmed her commitment to the scheme, saying it would “act as a powerful deterrent against dangerous and illegal journeys.”

The visit comes 11 months after the British government outlined its plan to send thousands of asylum-seekers who had entered the country illegally to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed in the African country.

The plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda, the British government claims, aims to disrupt illegal human trafficking gangs and reduce the number of refugees seeking a safe haven in the West and forced to make the sometimes dangerous 30km distance sea journey across the Channel to England from France.

The scheme, which would see the UK pay Rwanda $145 million over the next five years, has faced backlash from NGOs, asylum seekers, and a civil service trade union that questioned its legality, leading the government to delay its execution.

So far, no flights have taken place after the first scheduled flight to the African nation was stopped at the eleventh hour back in June, due to an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), followed by months of legal challenges which have since stalled the program.

Presently, the 'Illegal Migration Bill', which gives the government the go-ahead to deport anyone arriving illegally in the UK, is being debated in the British parliament

Most often, there are no safe and legal routes into the UK, forcing asylum seekers to take many risks.

Under the new bill, the ones who do make it to the UK “won’t be admissible to have their asylum claim assessed even if they are refugees coming from war-torn societies,” said Alexander Betts, Director of the University of Oxford Refugee Studies Center. Instead, they will face immediate removal either to their country of origin, or a third country, like Rwanda.

The government’s new plan comes as most of these asylum seekers qualify to have their claims considered in the UK under international law and the government cannot declare them inadmissible forcefully.

“When you open up the bill, on the first page there’s a big red flag which says: This might be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights,” Betts told CNN.

Betts added that the proposed bill is of “historical significance,” since it amounts to “a liberal, democratic state abandoning the principle of the right to asylum.”

The United Nations Court of Human Rights has warned that the bill, if enacted, would be a “clear breach” of the Refugee Convention.

There are also concerns that the bill is impractical. The Rwandan government has indicated that Kigali can only process 1,000 asylum seekers over the initial five-year period.

Home Office figures show that more than 3,000 migrants have crossed the Channel already this year, compared with a record of 45,755 channel crossings during the whole period of 2022, surpassing the previous year's record by more than 60 percent.

Aside from its casualties, the flow of illegal migrants has also soured Britain's relations with neighboring France, prompting a blame game between the two.

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