UK revives Rwanda plan to reduce asylum seeker numbers

Home Secretary James Cleverly flies to Rwanda to sign treaty after outlining new measures to reverse surge in migrant numbers

British Home Secretary James Cleverly during a press conference with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta after the signing of a new treaty with Rwanda on December 5, 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda. Getty Images
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British Home Secretary James Cleverly signed a new agreement in Rwanda on Tuesday to send asylum seekers to the African nation hours after announcing his intention to cut net migration by 300,000.

Britain has been seeking to renegotiate its agreement with Rwanda to include a binding treaty that it would not expel asylum seekers sent there by the UK after the Supreme Court ruled it would breach international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.

Details of the treaty remain scant, but Mr Cleverly insisted his new legally-binding treaty addresses all of the reasons that caused the Supreme Court to deem the Government’s flagship asylum policy unlawful.

He said he “cannot see any credible reason” to question the nation’s track record now after he signed the new deal in Kigali, from where he hopes the first migrant flights will take off to in the spring.

Mr Cleverly said categorically at a post-signing press conference on Tuesday that the UK has not paid any more money to Rwanda in addition to the £140 million already handed over.

He promised that “emergency” legislation will come before Parliament “soon” to determine that Rwanda is a safe destination, under the second tier of the Government’s approach.

The treaty "will address concerns" raised in the Supreme Court's ruling, including "assurances that Rwanda will not remove anybody transferred under the partnership to another country", the Home Office said.

Mr Cleverly met the country's Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta in Kigali to sign the agreement. He also visited a memorial honouring the victims of the country's 1994 genocide.

“Rwanda cares deeply about the rights of refugees and I look forward to meeting with counterparts to sign this agreement and further discuss how we work together to tackle the global challenge of illegal migration,” said Mr Cleverly.

The UK's immigration minister said the visit would be judged a success if planes carrying asylum seekers take off from the UK to the African nation.

Robert Jenrick told LBC Radio on Tuesday: "Success, ultimately, is getting flights off to Rwanda and further reducing the number of small boat crossings.

"This step is that we hope to sign a treaty with the government of Rwanda that further strengthens our relationship with them, puts more safeguards in place for the scheme that we've designed and, specifically and in a detailed way, answers all of the concerns that were set out by the Supreme Court in their judgment."

Mr Cleverly's visit came after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared “enough is enough” and that the time has come to “get control of immigration once and for all”.

Under the plan, which is being closely watched by other countries evaluating similar schemes, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda in a bid to deter migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats.

Details of the finalised treaty are yet to be disclosed.

On Monday, the government announced its plans combat legal migration by raising the minimum salary level for skilled migrant workers coming to the UK and measures aimed at dealing with what Mr Cleverly said was “abuse” of the system, such as arrivals bringing dependents with them.

The move comes after the latest figures showed net migration rose to 672,000 in the year ending in June, driven largely by non-EU citizens.

That is an increase from 488,000 on the previous year and is a huge blow to the government’s aim to cut the total, after previously promising to get it below 100,000.

It has raised further questions about Brexit, which was driven by concerns over high immigration numbers from the continent.

The government has faced a backlash from many of its own Conservative backbench MPs who say such a high level of migration is unsustainable and puts a strain on housing and the health service.

“Legal migration to this country is far too high and needs to come down,” Mr Cleverly told the UK Parliament as he outlined the government's five-point plan to tackle the problem.

He said care workers coming to Britain would be prevented from bringing dependents.

Mr Cleverly said that in the year to September, 100,000 care workers had 120,000 dependents accompanying them.

The measures include an increase in the minimum salary requirement for a skilled worker from overseas, rising from £26,200 to £38,000 ($30,558 to $44,320), although health and social care workers will be exempt.

The annual immigration health surcharge will be increased by 66 per cent to £1,035, from £624, to raise about £1.3 billion for the National Health Service, Mr Cleverly said.

British citizens would also need to earn about £38,000 if they want to bring a foreign spouse to the country.

The measures also include the scrapping of a rule that allows employers to pay overseas workers 20 per cent less than the equivalent domestic wage if that worker is filling a job vacancy, while categories of workers on the list of “shortage occupations” will be reformed.

“When our country voted to leave the European Union, we also voted to take back control of our borders,” said Mr Cleverly.

He said the package of measures would “deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration” and result in “around 300,000 fewer people” coming to the UK than last year.

But Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the announcement was “an admission of years of total failure by this Conservative government”.

“Failure on the immigration system and failure on the economy – it is another example of the total chaos at the heart of this government,” Ms Cooper said.

“Net migration has trebled since the last election – since the Conservatives promised to reduce it – and it has trebled as a result of their policies on the economy and on immigration, including the Prime Minister's policy decisions.

“In a chaotic panic, the Prime Minister now opposes the policies he introduced and thinks their own decisions are a problem, but who does the Home Secretary think has been in charge for the last 13 years?

“More chaos, more veering all over the place.”

Updated: December 05, 2023, 10:23 PM