What is the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and how many could go?

The skyline of the Rwandan capital Kigali

The skyline of the Rwandan capital Kigali

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Rwandan government’s asylum plan is legal, but the decision is likely to face further litigation.

The government says the measures would reduce the number of crossings of the English Channel, but numbers have risen since the announcement.

What is the Rwanda Asylum Plan?

During the five-year process, some asylum seekers arriving in the UK will be sent on a one-way ticket to Rwanda to apply for asylum.

They can get refugee status to stay in Rwanda. If not, they can apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a “safe third country”.

The government says it will deter people entering the UK through “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods”, such as on small boats crossing the English Channel.

However, since the announcement of the policy on April 14, the number of crossings has not decreased. More than 44,000 people have already used this route to get to the UK this year, the highest number since records began.

Graph showing the number of small boat crossings of the Channel 2018-2022

Graph showing the number of small boat crossings of the Channel 2018-2022

What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the Rwanda plan?

Earlier in 2022, charities, campaign groups and lawyers representing asylum seekers began to launch a legal challenge against the Rwandan government’s policies. They argued that Rwanda is not a safe destination for asylum seekers and that the arrangement violates human rights.

Critics of the plan argue that Rwanda is an “extremely surveillance authoritarian state” and that it “tortures and kills those it considers its opponents.”

On Dec. 15, the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s Rwanda plan is legal, but that doesn’t mean flights can go ahead right away.

The judge added that the arrangement does not violate the UN Refugee Convention or human rights.

However, the Supreme Court also ruled that the cases of eight individual asylum seekers – who were due to be sent to Rwanda earlier this year – should be reviewed.

The groups that lost their legal challenge are expected to appeal the ruling. The decision on whether to allow an appeal has been postponed until January 16, 2023.

Interior Minister Suella Braverman has previously said her “dream” was to get a flight to Rwanda before Christmas.

How many people can be sent to Rwanda?

The UK government previously said that “anyone illegally entering the UK” can be sent after 1 January 2022, with no limit on numbers.

Rwanda says it can process 1,000 asylum seekers during the trial period, but has capacity for more.

Under the deal, Rwanda can also ask the UK to take in some of its most vulnerable refugees.

However, not a single asylum seeker has actually been sent to the country. The first flight was scheduled to depart in June, but was canceled after legal issues.

Privilege Style – the airline that was supposed to bring asylum seekers to Rwanda in June – has said it will cancel its contract with the interior ministry, following a campaign by refugee charities.

Map with Rwanda

Map with Rwanda

How much will the plan cost?

The costs include flights to Rwanda, food, accommodation, access to translators and legal advice. Removing people from the UK on a charter flight will cost more than £13,000 per person in 2020.

When the policy was announced, former Home Secretary Tom Pursglove said there would be a £120 million upfront payment to Rwanda, followed by further payments as it dealt with more cases. In October 2022, The Times reported that the government has paid Rwanda an additional £20 million, bringing the total cost to £140 million.

Mr Pursglove said the cost “would be comparable to the amount of money we are currently spending on this”, and that “in the longer term, by getting this under control, it should help us save money”.

The UK asylum system costs £1.5 billion a year. Nearly £7 million a day is spent on hotel accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Critics say the daily costs are so high because of the time it takes to decide on applications and a ban on asylum seekers from working while waiting for their status to be confirmed.

What is an asylum seeker?

The UN Refugee Agency defines an asylum seeker as someone who has sought shelter and protection in another country.

A refugee is someone who has fled conflict or persecution in their own country.

The legal rights of refugees are protected by international law. However, it is up to the host country to decide whether an asylum seeker is granted refugee status.

In the year to September 2022, the UK received 72,027 asylum applications, the highest number in nearly 20 years. Of these, more than 17,000 people and their family members received some form of protection.

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