UK removes first asylum seeker to Rwanda through voluntary scheme

Migrant, who reportedly had claim for asylum rejected last year, travelled under project offering $3,750 to leave country

A staff member prepares a room at Hope Hostel, in Rwanda's capital Kigali, which is preparing to receive failed asylum seekers from the UK. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The first person has been sent to Rwanda under the UK's new voluntary scheme which offers failed asylum seekers money to relocate, as it detained the first people due to be sent to the east African nation under the government's deportation plan.

The unnamed man will be the first to voluntarily move to Rwanda under the return scheme, which provides migrants with up to £3,000 ($3,750) and is separate to the Rwanda deportation plan.

He is understood not to be from Rwanda, although is reportedly of African origin. The man had his claim for asylum in the UK rejected late last year.

The failed asylum claimant took the voluntary offer some weeks ago, and is now in the East African country, after his flight left on Monday evening, according to The Sun newspaper.

That a failed asylum seeker volunteered to go to Rwanda should be “trumpeted” as it shows the country is safe, the UK's Business and Trade Secretary said on Wednesday.

Kemi Badenoch told Times Radio: “The easiest cases will be the first ones. I do think that we should be trumpeting it because one of the big arguments about this scheme was Rwanda wasn't a safe country and actually people are volunteering to go there.

“I know people who go there on holiday, a lot of people have been.

“We need to get away from a lot of the myths about this African country, which is actually a leader on the continent in terms of what it's been able to achieve both economically and around law and order.”

It comes as the Home Office said a series of operations had been carried out across the country, with more activity due in the coming weeks.

Officials have not yet said how many people have been detained, or where they were taken into custody.

Rwanda detentions under way in the UK - in pictures

But images released by the Home Office showed a man being put in a van by immigration enforcement officials and another being led out of his house in handcuffs.

"Our dedicated enforcement teams are working at pace to swiftly detain those who have no right to be here so we can get flights off the ground," Home Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Home Office has increased capacity to more than 2,200 detention spaces, trained 200 new caseworkers to process claims and has 500 highly trained escorts ready in preparation for the start of removals to Rwanda. Commercial charters have also been booked and an airport has been put on standby.

Meanwhile, the asylum system has been hit by an “IT blunder”, according to The Times, which means thousands of migrants have not been told about the outcome of their claims as the letters were sent to the wrong address.

The problem, which was caused by the Home Office using two different systems, means the £49 weekly allowance was “abruptly cut” in about 10 per cent of cases.

The news comes ahead of what is expected to be a testing set of local and mayoral elections for Rishi Sunak across England and Wales, in which the Conservatives are likely to suffer heavy losses.

The Tories, widely also expected to suffer a drubbing at the next general election, hope the Rwanda expulsions plan will help them claw back some ground in the polls.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made “stopping the boats” one of his five pledges to the public, with the asylum seeker's removal seen as a signal to voters that the government's wider migration agenda can be made to work.

A government official said: “We are now able to send asylum seekers to Rwanda under our migration and economic development partnership.

“This deal allows people with no immigration status in the UK to be relocated to a safe third country where they will be supported to rebuild their lives.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, claimed the man's removal to Rwanda showed “the Tories are so desperate to get any flight off to Rwanda before the local elections that they have now just paid someone to go”.

The Liberal Democrats agreed, with the party's home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, saying: “This is cynical nonsense from a Conservative Party that is about to take a drubbing at the local elections.”

The Rwanda deportation plan is yet to be tested, with the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act having passed into law just last week.

Mr Sunak has said it will take between 10 and 12 weeks for deportation flights to Rwanda to begin.

The one-way journeys to Kigali are aimed at deterring other migrants from making the dangerous English Channel crossing in small boats.

More than 7,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the journey from France – a record for the first four months of a year.

On Tuesday, 268 people arrived in the UK in five boats and crossings continued on Wednesday.

Some 2,132 people made the journey in 42 boats in April, suggesting an average of 51 people per boat last month.

Meanwhile, UK officials have admitted that barely a third of failed asylum seekers due to be sent to Rwanda can now be found.

A government document released this week said only 2,143 out of the 5,700 people identified for removal “continue to report to the Home Office and can be located for detention”.

The document, updated on the Home Office's website on Monday, also acknowledges there could be further delays to deportations caused by MPs making last-minute representations to suspend removals.

Rwanda, home to 13 million people in Africa's Great Lakes region, lays claim to being one of the most stable countries on the continent and has drawn praise for its modern infrastructure.

But rights groups accuse veteran President Paul Kagame of ruling in a climate of fear, stifling dissent and free speech.

Rwanda's migration centre facilities – in pictures

Updated: May 01, 2024, 12:22 PM