UK still backs Rwanda deportations despite legal challenge

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Britain’s immigration minister said Tuesday that people who arrive by unauthorized means should not be allowed to claim asylum in the U.K. and she vowed to press on with a contentious plan to send some asylum-seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman acknowledged that a legal challenge to the policy means it’s unlikely anyone will be deported to the east African country this year.

Under a deal signed in April, Britain plans to send some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. Those granted asylum would stay in the African country rather than returning to the U.K.

The British government has said the policy will deter people-trafficking gangs who ferry migrants across the English Channel. Human rights groups say it is unworkable and inhumane to send people thousands of miles away to a country they don’t want to live in.

Braverman was appointed last month by new Prime Minister Liz Truss. Speaking at the ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference Tuesday, she said she would make the Rwanda policy work and was seeking to strike similar agreements with other countries.

She said she also would try to change the law so people who arrive in Britain by means other than established refugee programs can be deported.

“If you deliberately enter the U.K. illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your come country or relocated to Rwanda,” Braverman said.

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of the group Refugee Action, said such a move would be “a blatant breach of the international refugee laws that the U.K. proudly helped create in the first place.”

Clare Mosley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said it was “barbaric, untruthful and unnecessary.”

“If this government truly wanted to stop small boat crossings it would offer safe passage to those who have a viable claim for asylum,” she said.

Britain has already paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($145 million) but no one has been sent there as part of the deal. The U.K. was forced to cancel the first deportation flight at the last minute in June after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm.”

Braverman railed against the ruling. “We cannot allow a foreign court to undermine the sovereignty of our borders,” she said, though she has dropped an idea suggested by the previous government of pulling Britain out of the international human rights court.

Several asylum-seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union took legal action against the government in the British courts, with a hearing due later this month.

Thousands of people a year try to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in dinghies and other fragile craft in hope of a new life in the U.K. More than 35,500 people have made the crossing so far this year, up from 28,000 in 2021.

Dozens have died in the attempt in recent years.

The crossings, and how to stop them, are a source of friction between the U.K. and France. Braverman said the U.K. was committed to working with France to stop the smuggling gangs.

She said French authorities were stopping between 40% and 50% of boats trying to leave.

“That’s not good enough but it’s better than nothing,” she said.

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