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London moves to salvage 'cash for asylum seekers' deal

British ministers divided over whether new treaty with Kigali will clash with international obligations

Britain's Home Secretary James Cleverly signed a revised treaty with with Rwanda's Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta on 5 December in a bid to rescue the cash-for-asylum-seekers agreement between London and Kigali.

The initial agreement was based on Rwanda undertaking to process the claims of people seeking asylum in Britain. Those deemed genuine asylum-seekers would be allowed to stay in Rwanda. So far Britain has paid Rwanda £140 million (US$176m) to jointly operate the scheme and provide accommodation for the asylum-seekers while their claims are being processed.

The plan was that people who have arrived in Britain seeking asylum would be flown to Kigali to have their claims processed there. But the British authorities have been unable to fly anyone to Rwanda due to a series of legal challenges.

Those resulted in a Supreme Court ruling in November that that there was a real risk of claims being wrongly determined in Rwanda which could mean asylum-seekers could be wrongly returned to their country of origin. That would amount to 'refoulement', which breaks international law (Dispatches, 2/5/23, London courts to rule again on legality of London-Kigali asylum plan).

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees had argued at the Supreme Court that Rwanda was not a safe country and that the agreement could lead to breaches of the Refugee Convention.

After spending much political capital in putting the deal with Rwanda at the centre of its plans to control migration, the British government is determined to work around the court ruling.

Cleverly said at a press conference in Kigali that he saw 'no credible reason' that the latest treaty with Rwanda would be blocked in the British courts again.

'Rwanda has now established a strong reputation for the human and professional administration of refugees and migrants,' added Cleverly. Some of his fellow ministers question that view with one claiming that no asylum seekers will be flown from to Rwanda before Britain holds its general election next year.

Those British ministers with close ties to Rwanda, such as Africa Minister Andrew Mitchell, have been defending the deal and Kigali's record. Also backing the plan is Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who had organised training programmes in Rwanda for members of the ruling Conservative party.

The revised treaty includes legal safeguards on human rights to address the Court ruling but is likely to face fresh legal challenges. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government will then need to rewrite the migration control bill that put the Rwanda deal into law. That would set up the government for more wrangling in parliament.

Cleverly denied that Rwanda will receive more than the £140m already committed to the scheme by Britain.

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