UK Sets a Date for Rwanda Deportation Flights

A UK lawyer has announced that the UK is set to begin deportation flights of illegal migrants to Rwanda on July 24th; the first concrete date for flights that the UK has produced. This announcement comes after continual delays of the flights. Until a week and a half ago, flights were set to begin in late June. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that flights would not begin until after the UK’s election, without offering an explanation as to why flights had been delayed.

Regardless, PM Sunak had stated that arrests of potential deportees had began, and that flights would begin if he is elected.

“We’ve started detaining people … the flights are booked for July, airfields on standby, the escorts are ready, the caseworkers are churning through everything, so all that is happening, and if I’m re-elected as your Prime Minister, those flights will go to Rwanda” -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

However, with flights not beginning until after the election, the whole plan itself hinges upon a conservative victory.

A Controversial Plan

PM Sunak and the Conservative Party’s plan to deport illegal migrants and illegal asylum seekers who had arrived in small boats from the UK to Rwanda has been a controversial one since it was originally announced by former PM Boris Johnson over two years ago.

It has undergone a number of legal challenges, and opponents say that the plan, while not only being unethical, voids the UK’s obligations under international humanitarian law.

One of the plan’s opponents, is the UK’s primary opposition, the Labour Party. Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, has announced his intention to scrap the plan entirely; meaning that the plan is only likely to go forward if the Conservatives win the election.

However, given that the Labour Party has averaged 20 points above the Conservatives in polling, a Labour victory seems highly likely, and thus do does the scrapping of the plan.

This announcement comes as the plan is facing yet another legal challenge. This time, the challenge is coming from Asylum Aid, a UK based non-profit that aims to provide legal representation to migrants and asylum seekers. Similar legal challenges, and orders from European courts as well as the UK’s Supreme Court, had grounded previous flights.

Broken Promises and the Details of the ‘Rwanda Scheme’

As previously stated, deportation flights were supposed to begin in late June, or early July. This has, of course, been delayed to July 24th, but the late June/early July timeline was itself also a delayed timeline. Before this, PM Sunak had promised on a number of occasions that flights would begin in Spring. However, a long set of what is called “parliamentary ping pong” (where a bill is passed back and forth between Houses due to disagreements upon certain aspects of the legislation) between the UK’s House of Commons and the House of Lords delayed the legislation required for flights to take off until after Spring had already ended.

The ‘Rwanda scheme’ is one of PM Sunak’s flagship policies, and has been a constant source of discourse for months.


UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heads a press conference pertaining to the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ bill on April 22nd, 2024 (Photo from Toby Melville/Pool Photo via AP).

Under the plan, illegal migrants and illegal asylum seekers who entered the UK through small boats, transiting across the English Channel, will be deported to Rwanda. Within the terms of the deal, illegal migrants will be deported from the UK, and then resettled in Rwanda, where they cannot be sent by the Rwandan government to any third nation, including their nation of origin.

The Rwandan government has prepared an array of different housing opportunities for migrants, and language classes as well as assistance in finding jobs will be offered.

The UK has spent approximately 240 million pounds thus far on the plan, mostly as a means of upgrading Rwanda’s facilities, such as healthcare and education facilities, and improving their ability to receive a large influx of migrants, though portions of this money remain unspent and are presently held by Rwanda, dependent on if the plan actually takes off.

There has been a lack of clarity on if the UK will be able to receive back their investment if the plan fails to start. While PM Sunak had said he would fight to do so, Rwanda’s response on the matter has left some uncertain as to if they would return the money.

Speaking to a BBC journalist at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, which took place in January, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated that the money was “only going to be used if those people will come. If they don’t come, we can return the money”.


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).

In slight contrast, however, Rwandan government Spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo stated that “under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid,” but that if the UK were to request a refund, that Rwanda “will consider this request.”

Continual Delays

As mentioned, the plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda was first announced two years ago. Since then, it has faced repeat legal challenges and parliamentary delays that have grounded flights. The most major of which was in November, when the UK’s supreme court shut down the plan on the grounds that Rwanda could not be considered a “safe country” for migrants to be deported to.

In response, the UK signed a new partnership with Rwanda in December, and the Conservatives tabled the “Safety of Rwanda” bill. In addition to declaring Rwanda a safe country, the bill also sought to prevent external and internal court decisions from barring the plan, leaving the decision with government ministers.

While the bill passed the UK’s House of Commons in January, the House of Lords attempted to instate a series of different amendments upon the bill, thus passing it back to the House of Commons. This process repeated several times, before the bill finally passed in late April.

Stop the Boats: An Increasing Trend

This policy is meant to be a deterrent for small boat crossings, such as in dinghies, to the UK. The journey, which takes migrants across the English Channel, is incredibly dangerous and has led to fatalities among migrants on numerous occasions, including recently in April, when five migrants, including a seven year old girl, drowned while crossing the English Channel.

The small boat crossings into the UK have brought in tens of thousands of migrants each year for the last several years, and have mostly been on an upward trend. While crossings fell in 2023, they have sharply increased this year. As of May 24th so far in 2024, over 10,000 people have made the journey to the UK in small boats. As weather improves and the UK heads into the summer months, the frequency of crossings has increased.


A photo of migrants arriving in the UK after having been intercepted by the UK’s border police. Following their arrival in the UK, many migrants attempt to claim asylum (Photo from PA Media).

By April 23rd, the day that the UK passed the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ bill (the legislation meant to finally bring about deportation flights), crossings had reached 6,200. With crossings reaching over 10,000 on May 24th, this means that in the span of about a month, nearly 4,000 crossings took place.

2024 is set to be a record setting year, with crossings this year being more than any year since records began in 2018.

The UK has partnered with France in order to try and prevent crossings, spending hundreds of millions of pounds, and promising to invest more, to help fund the operations of French border and maritime police in an attempt to try and prevent crossings. According to the UK’s Home Office, this cooperation has prevented tens of thousands of crossings.

“We continue to work closely with French police who are facing increasing violence and disruption on their beaches as they work tirelessly to prevent these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys. Last year they stopped 26,000 people from reaching our shores” -The UK Home Office

The Home Office has further claimed that the rising number of crossings evidences the necessity for the Rwanda scheme.

The government claims that many of these crossings are organized by human trafficking groups.

A similar story can be seen on the many of the northern coasts of Africa, and the Mediterranean coasts of various Middle Eastern nations, where migrants cross the Mediterranean in order to reach European countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and France.

These journeys, too, are oftentimes organized by human traffickers, and have led to hundreds of fatalities in the past.

Both France and Greece have been accused of using overly aggressive tactics to try and prevent crossings. In March, footage emerged of French maritime police quickly circling nearby and around dinghies in order to cause waves to come over the sides, purposefully flooding the dinghy. Footage has also emerged of French police threatening groups of migrants with large canisters of pepper spray.



Documents have additionally detailed French police ramming into a dinghy, as well as puncturing several dinghies which forced those above to swim to shore.

Reportedly, these actions were carried out with equipment and vehicles that were paid for by the UK’s migration prevention partnership with France.

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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