UK migrant families with children 'could be sent to Rwanda in future'

The scheme will initially focus on removing adults to the African country, Lord tells Parliament

Migrants are taken ashore to Dover, Kent, on a Border Force vessel after being pulled from the English Channel on September 4. PA
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Migrant families with children could be sent to Rwanda in future, a Home Office minister has told Parliament.

Defending the controversial policy after it was ruled legal by judges, Lord Simon Murray of Blidworth also said that sending migrants to Rwanda to curb English Channel crossings was neither a punishment nor immoral.

Then-home secretary Priti Patel announced the proposals in April, describing it as a “world-first agreement” to deter people from making the journey across the Channel to the UK.

But several court challenges were brought against the government proposals.

The first deportation flight, due to take off on June 14, was grounded amid objections against migrant removals while the legality of the policy was also contested.

At a hearing on Monday, senior judges rejected arguments that the plans to provide asylum seekers with one-way tickets to Rwanda were unlawful.

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Lord Justice Clive Lewis, sitting with Mr Justice Jonathan Swift, dismissed the challenges against the policy as a whole, but ruled in favour of eight asylum seekers, finding the government had acted wrongly in their cases.

Detention Action, Care4Calais, the PCS union and Asylum Aid — which sought the judicial reviews — all said they were disappointed with the ruling and were considering whether to appeal.

Criticising the scheme in the House of Lords, Labour frontbencher Lord Vernon Coaker said: “The Rwanda scheme is a damaging distraction from the urgent action the government should be taking to go after criminal gangs and sort out the asylum system.

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“The scheme is unworkable, expensive and unethical. It really should be the task of the government to come forward with a scheme that works, is effective and efficient.

“All of us understand action is needed but let that action be consistent with the values of our country and the proud traditions we have of offering hope and sanctuary to those fleeing war, persecution and horror.

“The Rwanda scheme fails that test and should be abandoned.”

On the cost of the Rwanda deal so far, Liberal Democrat Lord Jeremy Purvis of Tweed said: “We cannot put a price on immorality, but £140 million [$170 million] is a dear price to pay for our reputation being so tarnished.”

Lord Murray said it cost £7 million a day to house asylum seekers in hotels.

“The Home Office’s focus remains on moving ahead with the policy as soon as possible and we stand ready to defend against any further legal challenge," he said.

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Lord Murray said there was no limit to the number of people who could be removed.

“We would anticipate the numbers being relocated ramping up quickly once the partnership starts to operate and in line with Rwanda’s growing capacity," he said.

“Families with children are potentially eligible for relocation. However, the initial process will focus on adults.

“A further assessment of Rwanda’s capacity to accommodate children will be undertaken before this occurs.

“Everyone considered for relocation will be screened, interviewed and have access to legal advice.

“Decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis and nobody will be removed if it is unsafe or inappropriate for them.

“I don’t agree that there is anything immoral about this policy. Indeed protecting people and avoiding people considering that it’s worth taking their lives into their hands by crossing the Channel in small boats must be the moral thing to do.

“It is not a punishment. The purpose of the policy is to remove the incentive to make dangerous and illegal journeys under the provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act.”

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Former defence chief Lord Jock Stirrup said: “People-smuggling is a crime but we seem at the current moment to be more interested in addressing the victims of the crime than the perpetrators of the crime.”

He pushed for more co-ordinated international law enforcement effort to tackle traffickers.

“International co-operation is clearly vital,” Lord Murray said.

He said a new agreement had been reached with Albania to return people to the country.

“It is a sad fact that a good deal of the criminality in the Channel arises as a result of the actions of Albanian gangs … and we are working with our European friends in an attempt, and with great vigour, to address this criminality," Lord Murray said.

Updated: December 20, 2022, 8:10 PM