British PM and Austrian chancellor to agree on sending migrants to third countries

Last week, 15 EU countries called on the European Commission to look at third-country schemes

Migrants rescued from a boat crossing the English Channel land on Dungeness Beach in Kent, on August 21, 2023. EPA
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will on Tuesday agree with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer that schemes such as the UK government's Rwanda plan are needed to tackle illegal migration into Europe.

Mr Sunak will meet Mr Nehammer in Vienna, with the two expected to agree in a joint statement that sending migrants to designated safe third countries plays a part in tackling the Europe-wide issue.

Last week, 15 EU countries, including Austria, signed a letter calling on the European Commission to tighten migration policy and look at third-country schemes.

Mr Sunak said the UK was “leading the charge with partners across the continent to meet the challenges caused by intolerable levels of illegal migration”.

“Our disruption of the cruel trade of criminal gangs, together with our Rwanda scheme, are part of a deterrent to stop illegal migration once and for all," he said.

“It is the British public who should make decisions about who crosses our borders.”

Migrants try to cross the Channel from France - in pictures

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act was passed into law last month and is aimed at protecting the scheme against legal challenges.

Ministers hope the first flight to the East African nation will be able to take off in early July, with a regular pattern of further flights to follow.

These one-way journeys to Rwanda are aimed at deterring migrants from crossing the English Channel in small boats, although critics have contested whether it will work.

The government has also announced an extra £25 million ($32 million) for the National Crime Agency to sustain and increase efforts to disrupt people-smuggling operations.

The extra cash is expected to provide new equipment and specialist teams for the NCA, enhance links between the NCA, Home Office and police, and to do more to disrupt small boat supply chains.

Home Secretary James Cleverly has insisted the government is still determined to “stop the boats”, as migrant Channel crossings near 10,000 for the year so far.

“We as a government are determined to stop the boats, to break the people-smuggling gangs,” Mr Cleverly said during a visit to Essex Police headquarters.

Smugglers have been “adapting their behaviour in response to the pressure we have put on with regards to the supply of small boats, to the supply of engines and illicit finance”, he said.

“Sadly we are seeing more and more migrants forced on to boats, incredibly dangerous, that is why we are determined to break the business model of those people-smuggling gangs.”

Labour’s vow to “take things like Rwanda off the table” if the party gained power after the next general election was “a signal to the people-smuggling gangs to continue doing what they’re doing”, Mr Cleverly said.

“The Rwanda scheme has been delayed because of the delaying tactics of the Labour Party," he said.

“I would have liked to have seen it up and running much earlier, but we are determined to crack down on those people-smuggling gangs.

"We are determined to operationalise Rwanda as part of the measures to protect our borders and make sure facilities like Wethersfield are no longer necessary."

Mr Cleverly said last week that a “concerted effort” to derail the Rwanda plan through the courts will not stop planes taking off.

He also said he wants centres such as the former RAF base Wethersfield – which is in his Braintree constituency and is being used for asylum accommodation – to “no longer to be needed”.

Updated: May 20, 2024, 11:01 PM