UK Migrant Deportation Plan Faces More Pushback

The UK’s illegal migrant deportation plan has faced even more delays as the ‘parliamentary ping pong’ between the UK’s House of Commons and the House of Lords continues, further complicating the UK government’s attempts to pass the “Safety of Rwanda” bill.

Counting Down

The Safety of Rwanda bill has once again made a round between the House of Commons and the House of Lords after the House of Lords voted to instate amendments upon the bill on Tuesday. This was after the House of Commons had voted on Monday to reject previous amendments instated by the House of Lords.

With the House of Lords latest amendments, the bill has once again been sent back to the House of Commons, in order for the parliamentarians to vote on it once again. The bill has been sent between the houses several times, with the first having been last month when the House of Lords voted to instate several amendments. While the House of Lords has backed down on some of the amendments, they have remained firm on others.


A photo of the UK’s House of Lords (Photo from Parliament.uk).

The latest amendments seek to ensure that the bill has “due regard” for both domestic and international law, seek to establish an “independent monitoring body” in order to verify the protections established by the UK’s treaty with Rwanda are properly implemented and remain as such, seek to restore the jurisdiction of UK courts on the matter and enable their intervention, as well as exempt from deportation any individuals who have worked with the UK’s military, in particular Afghan’s who had assisted the UK in their operations in the country, such as interpreters.

While the bill is still likely to eventually pass the House of Lords, and become law, it is likely this process of what is known in the UK as ‘parliamentary ping pong’ will continue for at least several more days, with the bill continuing to trade hands.

Government ministers have stated their hopes that the bill will pass by the end of the week. It will go into law when it receives royal assent.

These further delays come just a few days after Rwandan President Paul Kagame and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met in London in order to hold discussions on an array of issues, most prominently the Rwanda deportation deal. Both leaders announced they were looking forward to flights lifting off in spring.


UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pictured with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at 10 Downing Street in London, the UK (Photo from Paul Kagame on Instagram).

The Bill

The Safety of Rwanda bill seeks to establish Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country according to UK law. The reasoning for this is a deal the UK has signed with Rwanda in order to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, meant to be a deterrent for small boat crossings into the UK from the English Channel.

The deal and relevant legislation, however, were struck down by the UK’s Supreme Court in November on the grounds that Rwanda was not a ‘safe’ country for those being deported. The court claimed that deportees could face mistreatment in Rwanda, deportation from Rwanda to their nation of origin or a third country, and that Rwanda’s capabilities to receive an influx of deportees from the UK were not good enough.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Conservative MP James Cleverly tabled the Safety of Rwanda bill in response, after signing a new agreement with Rwanda. The new agreement, signed on December 5th, 2023, carries with it provisions to ensure that people sent to Rwanda cannot be deported from Rwanda to another country.


UK Home Secretary James Cleverly (left) and Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Vincent Biruta (right) at the signing of the treaty in Kigali, on December 5th, 2023 (Photo from Olivier Mugwiza).

Additionally, the bill seeks to halt legal challenges from entities outside the UK, such as the European Court of Human Rights, which has prevented deportations to Rwanda in the past. PM Sunak had previously said the “decision will lie entirely with ministers.” However, the amendments tabled by the Lords seek to restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts and allow their intervention.

Thus far, the UK has already spent 240 million pounds (304 million USD) on the plan in payments to Rwanda, largely in order to facilitate the upgrade of Rwandan institutions and increase their ability to receive a large flow of migrants from the UK. Upon the plan’s completion, it is set to cost the UK a total of at least 370 million pounds (470 million USD).

The opposition Labour Party has expressed wishes to scrap the bill. In recent electoral polling, the Conservatives are significantly behind the Labour Party, polling at 20% less. If the bill passes, it faces an uncertain future under a Labour government. The UK’s election date has not been officially set, however it is likely to take place within 2024.

In turn, the Labour Party has announced their intention to combat human trafficking groups. Such groups are oftentimes responsible for facilitating the journey to migrate to the UK and other European countries.

The plan to deport illegal migrants and illegal asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda was first mentioned two years ago by at the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson. To date, no planes have left the country with deportees, despite the 240 million pounds that have been spent.


A photo of former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo from Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP).

PM Sunak and Conservative MPs have insisted that flights will begin by the end of spring, and pressure is growing on them to pass the bill in order to keep to this timeline.

Regardless of when the bill passes, the government has stated it will take at least a month to organize and begin any deportation flights, leaving a small amount of time for PM Sunak to fulfill his promise.

Additionally, The Daily Mail has claimed that the UK government has thus far failed to secure an airline to carry out the flights, as any who had previously agreed to do so have been successfully pressured out of the move by activists. The Daily Mail additionally claimed that RwandAir, Rwanda’s state-owned airline, has refused to carry out such flights.

Stop the Boats: An Increasing Trend

The Rwanda deportation plan is the flagship of PM Sunak’s ‘Stop the Boats’ initiative, which is meant to deter illegal immigrants from making the journey across the English Channel to the UK in small boats. The journey is very dangerous, and one oftentimes organized by human trafficking groups. Journeys made by migrants to various destinations in Europe regularly result in fatalities after the oftentimes poor quality and overcrowded boats capsize.

PM Sunak claimed in January that the plan was working, stating that small boat entries into the UK were down a third in 2023 from 2022. However, recent large crossings show a drastic increase in small boat crossings, not a decrease.

On Sunday, April 14th, 534 people arrived in the UK across 10 boats. This crossing marked the largest single day crossing so far in 2024, after the previous record had only been set just a few weeks prior on March 20th, which saw 514 migrants enter the UK through small boats.


UK authorities pictured intercepting migrants attempting to make it to the UK (Photo from PA Media).

The additional 534 people shot the number of crossings so far this year above 6,000, to 6,265. This is 28% higher than the same period in 2023, and is seven per cent higher than the same period in 2022, which was the year the UK experienced the highest amount of Channel crossings at 45,774 people, making 2024 projected to be the busiest year on record for Channel crossings if they continue at this rate.

While the government has acknowledged the increase in crossings, they have blamed it on favourable weather conditions, combined with an increase in violence perpetrated by human trafficking groups. Notably, this is after the government had claimed in December that the 2023 fall in crossings was not related to unfavourable weather conditions.

The UK has partnered with France to try and stop some of these small boat crossings, with PM Sunak agreeing to pay France several hundred million pounds over several years to assist with them halting migrants. This is in addition to the already more than 700 million pounds the UK has given France for this same purpose since 2014.

The UK’s partnership with France has recently fallen under scrutiny, as footage and claims surfaced of French police using overly aggressive tactics against migrant boats that some claim put their lives in danger.

An Expansion to the Deal

When the plan to deport migrants was created, it was originally to be between the UK and a partner country. While the UK had sought out a number of different partners for such a deal, a deal was only established with Rwanda.

Rwanda has remained the UK’s only partner nation in this particular scheme, however on Monday the Times of London reported that the UK was in conversation with several other countries in order to develop similar partnerships, should the partnership with Rwanda prove to be successful.

The Times of London reported that Armenia, Cote d’Ivoire, Botswana, and Costa Rica were at the forefront of the government’s list of nations it was considering for establishing a partnership with.


Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan speaks at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Moscow on May 25th, 2023 (Photo from primeminister.am)

The UK government has neither confirmed nor denied the reports, only stating that the UK was “continuing to work with a range of international partners to tackle global illegal migration challenges,” offering no details on the validity of the reports.

According to the report, the UK has also established a “reserve list” of countries that it could additionally partner with, which includes several African countries. The report additionally claims the UK was considering partnering with several other Latin American nations, however that they were apparently considered to have “less interest” in such a deal.

While Armenia, Botswana, and Cote d’Ivoire have not released statements on the matter, Costa Rica has announced they are not considering such a deal.

The exact specifics of any deal that the UK would form with these nations is unclear, though it is likely to be fairly similar to the deal established with Rwanda.

The continual delays that the Rwanda deal has faced, however, are likely to dissuade many countries from considering such a deal.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.

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