The government hopes it can start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda in a matter of “weeks”, according to Boris Johnson’s policy chief.
The UK government is attempting to crack down on Channel crossings by small boats and as part of the plans, the Home Office has signed a “world first” deal with Rwanda to send migrants to the landlocked African country.
The Home Office said on Thursday that the first people to be sent to Rwanda will be formally notified in the coming weeks, with the first flights taking place in the next few months.
Read more: First glimpse inside the center which will house Channel migrants
However, Andrew Griffith, the director of Number 10’s policy unit, said that it could be operational in “weeks”.
“It doesn’t require new legislation, we think we can do this under the existing conventions,” he told Newsnight.
“Therefore, this should be possible to be implemented and operationalized in weeks or a small number of months. We are ready to go in that sense.”
According to The Times, the prime minister wants the first flight to leave next month, with thousands of people moved over the next few years.
At £120m ‘entertainment’
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart told Sky News that the agreement will cost the UK around £120m initially.
Priti Patel addressed a news conference in Kigali on Thursday, confirming the UK and Rwanda had signed the new migration and economic development partnership to “put an end to this deadly trade in people smuggling.”
She said the UK is making a “substantial investment” in the development of Rwanda through this move, which will improve the lives of those in the country.
“This is a global issue, with many countries struggling to address the challenges and the causes, and there is no single or simple solution,” the home secretary said.
She added that Rwanda “is a safe and secure country with the respect for the rule of law, and clearly a range of institutions that have evolved and developed over time”.
The agreement has received widespread criticismwith Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer describing it as a “pathetic distraction” from partygate and the Tory Reform Group calling it “wrong and irresponsible”.
Read more: Why are migrants being sent to Rwanda and how will it work?
The prime minister has defended the partnership and said: “This is the morally right thing to do and the humane and compassionate thing to do.
“We cannot have people continuing to die at sea, paying huge sums to evil people trackers who are simply exploiting their hopes and ambitions.
“We need to encourage them to take the safe and legal route if they want to come to this country.”
View from Rwanda
There has also been criticism of the agreement in Rwandawith the nation’s opposition leader arguing her country shouldn’t be dealing with a British migration backlog.
Victoire Ingabire told Sky News: “If our people don’t have enough to eat, if our kids or Rwanda’s kids don’t have the possibility of going to school because of the poverty, how will the Rwandan government give education to the kids of refugees?”
However, some Rwandans who spoke to Sky News seemed supportive of the scheme.
“They may be called migrants or whatever, but they’re just people,” Eric told Shingi Mararike in Kigali.
“We’re all one human race.”
Rwanda’s human rights record questioned
Human rights groups have condemned the move as inhumane, while others said it is unworkable and a waste of money.
According to Freedom House, a US government-funded non-profit, Rwanda has a poor record for political rights and civil liberties.
The organization’s 2022 report on Rwanda states that “children are trafficked internally for domestic service under abusive conditions”, with many working “informally in the agricultural sector”.
“Young Congolese and Burundian refugees are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and coerced recruitment into armed groups linked to Rwandan security forces,” it adds.
Mr Johnson admitted there would be legal challenges, but vowed to take on the “politically motivated lawyers” to prevent the partnership from being stopped in the courts.