Britain and Rwanda have signed a new treaty in a bid to revive a controversial proposal by London to transfer irregular refugees to the east African country.
According to international media reports, the agreement was signed on Tuesday by Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta and British Interior Minister James Cleverly, who travelled to Kigali to salvage London’s stalled bid to send illegal migrants to Rwanda after the UK Supreme Court blocked an earlier arrangement as unlawful.
The judges sided with a lower court decision that the policy was incompatible with Britain’s international obligations because Kigali could forcibly return migrants to places where they could face persecution.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had vowed to persevere with the contentious project by securing the new treaty, vowing to “address concerns” raised in the Supreme Court’s ruling last month.
Details of the new agreement were not available but British media reports said it would include commitments by Rwanda regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and other migrants there.
“There is a lot of desire to continue to improve the process. The UK and Rwanda are working on this because it is important,” Cleverly said at a joint press briefing in Kigali.
“Rwanda is very committed to this partnership and that is why we worked with the UK government to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court,” Biruta added.
The court decision was a major setback for Sunak, who also plans to pass “emergency legislation” in parliament to designate Rwanda a safe country to end the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges.
“I’m fed up with our Rwanda policy being blocked,” Sunak wrote in The Sun tabloid Tuesday.
“I’ve got the government working on emergency laws to end the merry-go-round so that we can fix this problem once and for all — and stop the boats.”
A UK-Rwanda migration “partnership” agreed in April last year envisaged sending to Kigali anyone who has made what London calls “dangerous or illegal journeys” to Britain on small boats from Europe or hidden in lorries.
The first deportees were aboard a plane to fly there in June 2022 when a last-minute European Court of Human Rights injunction prevented any deportations, prompting the further legal challenges.
The government insists the scheme is crucial to deter “illegal” immigration across the Channel from France on inflatable vessels — an emotional issue set to feature prominently in a general election expected next year.
Nearly 30,000 have made the perilous journey this year — down on the nearly 46,000 who crossed in 2022, but still far short of meeting Sunak’s vow to “stop the boats”.
“We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives,” Cleverly said in a statement ahead of the visit.