Britain's plan to deport migrants to Rwanda could finally become reality because of a possible change of heart by European judges, the UK government has said.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was encouraged after what she called constructive talks with the European Court of Human Rights.
Ms Braverman, who was in Rwanda at the weekend to sell her plan, wants English Channel migrants sent to the country to deter others from travelling to Britain in small boats.
A record 46,000 people, mostly young men from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, crossed the English Channel last year, according to official figures.
The European court granted an injunction last year that effectively grounded flights taking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.
But a possible change to the court's thinking “would remove a key barrier to getting flights off the ground”, a government source said.
The government has asked for a higher legal threshold for any injunction to be imposed on any future deportation flights.
The discussions have also involved the Strasbourg court taking decisions by English judges into account when considering future orders.
The government also wants the opportunity to make legal representations if the court sought to impose another injunction in the future.
Ms Braverman said the "opaque Strasbourg process", which blocked flights last year under a so-called Rule 39 order, was "deeply flawed".
"I’ve been encouraged by the government’s constructive recent discussions with Strasbourg, including around possible reforms to Rule 39 procedures, which is obviously something we’d like to see," she said.
Plans are under way to send migrants on a one-way trip to Rwanda as early as this summer, with the UK government saying it wants to “get cracking” with the deportations.
No migrants have been relocated to the country so far after the deal was signed last April by her predecessor, Priti Patel.
Shadow minister Liz Kendall, from the opposition Labour Party, said on Monday that voters wanted a "proper plan, not a photo opportunity", after Ms Braverman's trip to Rwanda.
"I'm interested in action that stops so many people coming over on these boats. I want to see proper action to tackle the criminal gangs. I want to see a speeded-up asylum process," she told Sky News.
Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden defended Ms Braverman’s visit. It came after she was accused of sounding "tone deaf" by joking she liked the refugee accommodation in Rwanda so much that she should hire the interior designer.
“The purpose of the Home Secretary’s visit was to further strengthen our relationships with Rwanda, so people should feel confident in this policy," Mr Dowden said.
The policy led to a separate row after football commentator Gary Lineker said the government's language about immigration echoed that used in 1930s Germany.
On her trip, Ms Braverman expanded the deal with Rwanda for it to accept migrants who arrive in the UK without permission.
She signed the expanded deal with Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta for Rwanda to include all those illegally entering the UK, as opposed to only asylum seekers.
The updated deal with Rwanda expands its scope to “all categories of people who pass through safe countries and make illegal and dangerous journeys to the UK”.
“Many countries around the world are grappling with unprecedented numbers of illegal migrants, and I sincerely believe that this world-leading partnership … is both humanitarian and compassionate, and also fair and balanced,” Ms Braverman said in Kigali.
“Anyone who comes to the UK illegally, who cannot be returned to their home country, will be in scope to be relocated to Rwanda."
Migrants arriving from the UK, more than 6,400km away, would be housed in hostels and hotels in the short term.
One refugee living in Rwanda told reporters he had “never felt I have been considered as a foreigner”, but said he did not think the country had the capacity to hold “many thousands” of migrants.
Fesseha Teame, 48, who has a wife and four children, was speaking after Ms Braverman claimed: “Rwanda has the capacity to resettle many thousands of people, and can quickly stand up accommodation once flights begin.”
She also said a suggestion that Rwanda could only take 200 people is a “completely false narrative peddled by critics who want to scrap the deal”.
“I sincerely believe that this world-leading partnership between two allies and two friends, the United Kingdom and Rwanda, will lead the way in finding a solution which is both humanitarian and compassionate,” Ms Braverman said in Kigali.
Before her trip, she said the plan would “act as a powerful deterrent against dangerous and illegal journeys”.
As she toured the housing in Rwanda, another 209 people were confirmed to have made the journey across the English Channel on Friday.
Many charities have said the proposal is costly and impractical, and would render thousands of genuine refugees — who have very few routes to seek asylum in Britain without entering the country — as criminals.
Sonya Sceats, chief executive at the Freedom from Torture organisation, described the policy as a “cash-for-humans” plan.
“Rather than pushing through this inhumane and unworkable policy, ministers should focus on establishing safe routes to the UK and tackling the unacceptable backlog of asylum claims, so people fleeing war and persecution can rebuild their lives with dignity,” Ms Sceats said.
Human rights groups also cite Rwanda's poor human rights record, and say it is inhumane to send people so far to a country they do not want to live in.