Two countries sign update to memorandum of understanding, plan for relocations to begin this year
Following a visit by Home Secretary Suella Braverman to Rwanda on Saturday and Sunday, the Home Office announced that the UK has updated and expanded its migration partnership with the East African country.
Under the migration partnership agreed last year, the Government plans for asylum seekers who enter the UK without official permission to be relocated to Rwanda for their claims to be heard there. A memorandum of understanding between the two countries was signed in April 2022.
The Home Office said yesterday that the migration partnership has now been expanded so that anyone who enters the UK irregularly without entry clearance via a safe third country will be in scope to for removal to Rwanda.
A Home Office news release stated: "[T]he Home Secretary and [the Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation] signed an update to the memorandum of understanding, expanding the partnership further to all categories of people who pass through safe countries and make illegal and dangerous journeys to the UK. This will have the added benefit of preparing the UK to deliver on the measures proposed in the Illegal Migration Bill, as it will mean that anyone who comes to the UK illegally – who cannot be returned to their home country – will be in scope to be relocated to Rwanda."
According to Rwanda's The New Times, Braverman and Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs signed an addendum to the migration partnership, with the Home Secretary also saying the provision of support to people being relocated to Rwanda is being expanded.
The Independent quoted a spokesperson for the Rwandan government as saying: "We are going to be ready to absorb the thousands that will come from the UK along the life of this partnership. We're determined to make this a success."
At the time of writing, the update to the memorandum of understanding had yet to appear on the Home Office website - see the Home Office page here on GOV.UK for all materials related to the migration partnership.
Legal action over the lawfulness of the Rwanda policy remains ongoing. The Court of Appeal delivered the latest judgment on the challenge last week and granted permission to appeal the High Court's December 2022 ruling on a limited number of grounds.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors welcomed the Court of Appeal's judgment and said: "We maintain that the Home Secretary failed to conduct a thorough examination of the functioning of Rwanda's asylum system, as required by law. There are crucial evidential gaps and deficiencies. The Rwanda policy is not compatible with fundamental human rights afforded to asylum seekers under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK was the first signatory, and the Refugee Convention."
The Guardian reported that a full, four-day appeal hearing over the lawfulness of the Rwanda policy is now set to take place from 24 to 27 April in the Court of Appeal.
Sky News reported yesterday that Government sources said they are working towards starting flights to Rwanda "by the summer". Speaking during her visit to Rwanda, the Home Secretary told reporters: "We are working to make this happen as soon as possible. There is every possibility that we can move quickly if we get a good line of judgment in our favour. Rwanda is clearly ready."
Last week, however, The Times reported that the Government's own internal planning suggests that flights to Rwanda may not happen until December 2023 at the earliest even if the Court of Appeal upholds the policy as lawful.
According to The Times, advice provided to the Home Office by the Government Legal Service forecasts that the most likely scenario will see legal challenges against the policy last for more than a year meaning it could be March 2024 until a flight takes off.
The Home Secretary also indicated during her visit to Rwanda that talks have been held with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg regarding the Court's issuing of an urgent interim measure under Rule 39 which effectively stopped the first deportation flight last June.
LBC News quoted Suella Braverman as saying: "The government has been clear that the opaque Strasbourg process which led to the last-minute grounding of our Rwanda flight with a Rule 39 order last year was deeply flawed. That's why we have measures in our bill that will address how the UK intends to comply with such orders in the future. But 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."