Rwanda Bill: Rishi Sunak says UK government has ‘airfield on standby’ to take refugees to Rwanda within 12 weeks

Rishi Sunak said the first flights to Rwanda would leave within 12 weeks

Rishi Sunak says the UK government has “put an airfield on standby”, “booked commercial charter planes” and has escorts ready to take people to Rwanda at short notice as he vowed “no foreign court” will stop the controversial Bill.

The Prime Minister said the first flight would leave in ten to 12 weeks and blamed opposition politicians for delays.

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The Bill was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court last year. However, despite the court warning that Rwanda was not a safe country for asylum seekers, the government pledged to press ahead with its scheme. The plans could see thousands of people who arrive in the UK through a non-legal route, such as on a small boat, sent to Rwanda for their case to be processed – and ultimately settled – there.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said deportation flights of asylum seekers to Rwanda will begin in '10 to 12 weeks', as the plan entered its final stage in Parliament. Picture: AFP via Getty ImagesPrime Minister Rishi Sunak said deportation flights of asylum seekers to Rwanda will begin in '10 to 12 weeks', as the plan entered its final stage in Parliament. Picture: AFP via Getty Images
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said deportation flights of asylum seekers to Rwanda will begin in '10 to 12 weeks', as the plan entered its final stage in Parliament. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

Having faced four months of delays, the Bill is to be debated later on Monday in Westminster, when politicians will vote.

Mr Sunak told a press conference: “To detain people while we prepare to remove them, we’ve increased detention spaces to 2,200. To quickly process claims, we’ve got 200 trained, dedicated caseworkers ready and waiting.

“The Strasbourg court has amended their rule 39 procedures in line with the test set out in our Illegal Migration Act. And we’ve put beyond all doubt that ministers can disregard these injunctions with clear guidance that if they decide to do so, civil servants must deliver that instruction and most importantly, once the processing is complete, we will physically remove people.

“And to do that, I can confirm that we’ve put an airfield on standby, booked commercial charter planes for specific slots and we have 500 highly trained individuals ready to escort illegal migrants all the way to Rwanda, with 300 more trained in the coming weeks.”

The Prime Minister added: “This is one of the most complex operational endeavours the Home Office has carried out. But we are ready, plans are in place and these flights will go, come what may. No foreign court will stop us from getting flights off.”

The overall cost of the scheme stands at more than half a billion pounds, according to figures released to the National Audit Office.

Mr Sunak declined to give details on the numbers of people likely to leave on flights to Rwanda, but said there would be a “regular rhythm” of “multiple flights a month through the summer and beyond”.

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He said he would not provide exact operational details due to the “loud minority of people who will do absolutely anything and everything to disrupt this policy from succeeding”.

The Refugee Council said the Bill would be unlikely to work as a deterrent, describing it as something that would “only compound the chaos within our asylum system, all at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers”.

Enver Solomon, the council’s chief executive, said: “Even if, as the Prime Minister asserts, there is to be ‘a regular rhythm of multiple flights every month’, this will still only correspond to at most a few thousand people a year out of tens of thousands. Instead of giving these people a fair hearing on UK soil to determine if they have a protection need, the government will have to look after them indefinitely, at considerable cost.

“Despite the Prime Minister’s renewed claims about deterrence, we know from the Home Office’s own research, as well as our own, that policies such as the Rwanda plan don’t actually work as a deterrent, and people seeking asylum have said they won’t stop coming to the UK to find safety.”

The Scottish Refugee Council added: “This morning's press conference was hard to listen to. We're clearer than ever that this vile Rwanda Bill is not in our name.”

Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney, said: “Following these contortions over the Rwanda scheme feels like going through the looking glass. All the key players in government are known to think the proposals are ridiculous and yet they continue to back them in public.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper insisted Labour was not blocking the Bill.

She said: “The government has an overall majority in Parliament and could have passed this Bill a month ago if they had scheduled it then, but as we know Rishi Sunak always looks for someone else to blame. This is costing the taxpayer half-a-billion pounds for a scheme that will only cover 1 per cent of asylum seekers.”

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United Nations experts have meanwhile warned airlines involved in the Rwanda scheme they could be held responsible for any violations of international human rights rules.

Siobhan Mullally, Gehad Madi and Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteurs on human trafficking, migrants’ human rights and torture, warned airlines and regulators could be “complicit” in breaching the rules by facilitating removals to Rwanda.

“Even if the UK-Rwanda agreement and the Safety of Rwanda Bill are approved, airlines and aviation regulators could be complicit in violating internationally protected human rights and court orders by facilitating removals to Rwanda,” they said.

The legislation is aimed at making the plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda legally watertight. But the UN experts said: “If airlines and aviation authorities give effect to state decisions that violate human rights, they must be held responsible for their conduct.

“As the UN guiding principles on business and human rights underline, aviation regulators, international organisations and business actors are required to respect human rights.”

The UN experts have been in contact with the UK government, as well as national, European and international aviation regulators, including the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and international bodies including the International Air Transport Association.

James Wilson, director of campaign group Detention Action, said: “By forcing people onto planes to Rwanda, this government is outsourcing its responsibility to protect people seeking asylum here. ”



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