Rwanda will not say how many migrants it will take as part of UK immigration deal

Officials in Britain recently began operation to detain migrants for removal to East Africa

A view of Hope Hostel, one of the locations where the asylum seekers from the UK are expected to arrive this summer. AP
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The Rwandan government has refused to confirm the number of asylum seekers the country will take as part of the UK government’s flagship deportation plan.

Last week, UK officials began an operation to detain migrants to be removed to Rwanda as part of a five-year deal which enjoins the East African state to take asylum seekers who arrive illegally in Britain.

The first one-way flights are schedules to take off this summer in the scheme which is designed to deter people on small boats from attempting the journey from France.

Yolande Makolo, a spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, said Kigali will be able to take more than 200 migrants initially, but refused to say how many in total.

Asked by the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg if Rwanda would be able to process tens of thousands of migrants as part of the deal, Ms Makolo said: “We will be able to welcome the migrants that the UK sends over the lifetime of this partnership.

“What I cannot tell you is how many thousands we are taking in the first year or the second year. This will depend on very many factors that are being worked out right now.”

She earlier said there was a misconception that Rwanda was prepared to take 200 migrants at first, telling the BBC: “Journalists have been visiting the initial accommodation that we have secured since the beginning of the partnership. This is Hope Hostel.

“That particular facility is able to take up to 200 people.

Rwanda's migration centre facilities – in pictures

“However, we have already started initial discussions with other facilities around Kigali and further afield and these will be firmed up and signed once we know how many migrants are coming and when they are coming.

“So, it has never been the case that we can only take 200 initially, that has been a misconception.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said his party will not keep the Rwanda policy if it wins the next election, prompting questions about what the party would do.

Ms Makolo urged critics of the plan not to attack Rwanda “unjustly”, and to present a solution to migration which was “not just deterrence and enforcement”.

“People are suffering here, so we need good solutions and we need to rethink the migration crisis,” she said.

“Living in Rwanda is not a punishment. It is a beautiful country, including the weather.”

Pat McFadden, Labour's national campaign co-ordinator, said if the party was in power it would spend the cash set aside for the Rwanda scheme on “a proper operation to crack down on the criminal gangs”.

Mr McFadden said Labour believed the government “will get flights off” but did not believe the scheme would provide “value for money for the taxpayer”.

Rwanda detentions under way in the UK – in pictures

He also said he doubted Labour would work to return asylum seekers to the UK from Rwanda should they form the next government.

Responding to Ms Makolo's comments, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This interview shows that more people have arrived in the last week than are likely to be sent to Rwanda over the next few years, and the Conservatives are just trying to con people with their failing plans.

“Today, we heard a stark admission that Rwanda can only take a tiny proportion of people who are arriving in the UK, yet the government is spending half a billion pounds of taxpayers' money on this scheme.”

The government has said it expects to deport 5,700 asylum seekers to Rwanda this year, after the Home Office said Kigali had “in principle” agreed to accept that number.

Of those, 2,143 “can be located for detention” before being flown to Africa, the ministry said, leaving more than 3,500 currently accounted for.

Ministers have insisted the enforcement teams will find them.

Migrants who arrive in the UK illegally, such as those crossing the English Channel in small boats, are currently blocked from applying for asylum, which Labour says would change under a government led by Sir Keir.

The Refugee Council said 93,931 people are stuck in limbo in the UK, with their asylum claims declared permanently inadmissible. The number is expected to rise to more than 115,000 by the end of the year.

Labour has said they will all be entitled to apply for asylum if the party wins power.

The cumulative number of arrivals in small boats in 2024 now stands at more than 8,278.

This is 34 per cent higher than the total at the same point last year, which was 6,192, and 19 per cent higher than the total at this stage in 2022, which was 6,945.

Updated: May 05, 2024, 7:50 PM