The UK’s House of Commons on Tuesday, December 12th, voted in favour of the “Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2023”. While the initial votes in favour of the bill are a win for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the bill will still have to undergo thorough scrutiny first continuing in the House of Commons, then the House of Lords, before finally receiving Royal Assent. The process is to head into 2024.
The British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts.
That’s what this Bill delivers.
We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) December 12, 2023
The bill seeks to address the concerns of the UK Supreme Court of PM Sunak’s plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda, in partnership with the African nation, establishing Rwanda as a “safe country” and providing supports and security guarantees for those who would be deported there.
A Long History
The plan, one of the primary parts of PM Sunak’s “Stop the Boats” initiative, seeks to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers from the UK to a “safe third country”, who will host them. Initially the UK had been seeking out several partner nations to establish as one of these third countries, however Rwanda has been the only one established. Illegal migrants entering the country will be deported from the UK either to their country of origin, or to Rwanda, where they may reside.
Since it’s announcement and introduction into parliament, the plan has been fought by human rights groups, facing a number of challenges along the way. Many critics of the plan say it ignores the UK’s obligations under international law. In July 2023, however, the initial bill, the “Illegal Migration Act 2023”, passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent. Since it’s passage it has been marred by yet more legal challenges, before the UK Supreme Court in November declared the plan itself to be unlawful on the grounds that Rwanda did not qualify as a “safe country”, citing “substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement to their country of origin”.
On December 5th, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta and UK Home Secretary James Cleverly signed a new treaty in Kigali (Rwanda’s capital), which seeks to address the concerns brought by the UK’s supreme court by establishing legal provisions that guarantee people deported from the UK to Rwanda cannot be sent from Rwanda to another country. This treaty is the bill which UK lawmakers voted in favour of on December 12th, in a 313-269 vote.
“Stop the Boats”
As previously mentioned, the Rwanda plan is one of the largest parts of PM Sunak’s “Stop the Boats” initiative, which seeks to slow and eventually stop the flow of migrants travelling to the UK in small boats. The journey, which is dangerous and oftentimes organized by human trafficking groups, has been undertaken by over 100,000 people since 2018. As of November 13th in 2023 so far 27,284 people entered the UK in this way. A noticeable drop compared to the 45,755 people who had crossed last year, through 2022.
If you would like to read the text of and view the progress of the latest bill, you may do so here.