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British Home Secretary James Cleverly arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday to sign a new treaty to send asylum seekers to the African nation after the United Kingdom’s top court declared the deportation scheme unlawful.
The Rwanda plan is at the centre of the government’s strategy to cut migration and is being watched closely by other countries considering similar policies.
But the UK’s Supreme Court last month ruled that such a move would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.
Since that ruling, 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 Britain – one of the court’s major concerns.
Cleverly, who arrived in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Tuesday morning, is due to meet with the country’s foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, to sign the agreement.
“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,” Cleverly said.
Under the plan, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda to deter migrants and refugees from crossing the English Channel from Europe in small boats.
In return, Rwanda has received an initial payment of 140 million pounds ($180m) with the promise of more money to fund the accommodation and care of any deported individuals.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure to cut net migration, which hit a record 745,000 last year, and end the flow of asylum seekers who pay people smugglers for their Channel crossings, often in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats.
Britain’s immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the government had to act because those arriving on small boats were effectively breaking into the country.
“The law says you can’t enter the country illegally. If you or I crossed an international border, we literally broke into another country, we would expect to be treated very seriously,” he told Sky News.
Ministers are also expected to publish new legislation soon, declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country, designed to stop legal challenges against the planned deportation flights.