Thursday, June 20News For London

Departure from reason: a brief timeline of the Rwanda scheme

The government’s migration policy has been doing the rounds in headlines over the past week, leaving many wondering how we got here.  

The scheme has been controversial since its announcement last year, but Robert Jenrick’s resignation as immigration minister last week suggests that the Conservatives are more divided than ever when it comes to tackling migration.  

We decided now would be a good time for a refresher on the Rwanda scheme, which remains a sobering counterpoint to December’s usual festivities.

(Credit: @skynews on Instagram)

 

2022

April:  

  • Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that the UK has agreed to a Migration and Economic Development partnership with Rwanda. The deal is signed by Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta. 
  • The new policy will deport asylum-seekers in the UK to Rwanda. There, they will be processed and allowed to stay – if their claims are successful.
  • A new Nationality and Borders Act is passed. The law makes the process of dealing with asylum claims much stricter and offers less protection to “those who arrive in the UK via irregular means” according to the Law Society.  

May:

  • The first legal action is taken to stop the scheme from going through. Representatives from the UN’s refugee agency claim the proposal violates international law. 

June:

  • The United Nations Court of Human Rights grants an injunction to stop the first flight set to carry refugees from the UK to Rwanda. 

December:

  • The High Court rules that the plan is lawful but orders that the first deportees should have their cases reconsidered before being sent to Rwanda. 

Protest against Rwanda flights in June 2022. (Credit: @channelrescue on Instagram)

2023

January:

  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promises to “stop the boats” in his first major speech of the year, referring to migrants who cross the English Channel illegally to claim asylum in the UK.  

March 2023:  

  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May criticises the government for “shutting the door” on asylum-seekers.  
  • The government reveals a cost-cutting plan to house refugees on barges, ferries and former military bases. 

July 2023:  

  • The Illegal Migration Bill passes. The government claims it will stop people entering the UK via dangerous routes. The Bill is opposed by many human rights campaigners. The Home Office promises to “work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those who are most in need so that the UK remains a safe haven for the most vulnerable”. 

September 2023: 

  • Labour leader Keir Starmer argues that the UK must cooperate more closely with European authorities to take back control of the situation. 
  • Former Home Secretary Suella Bravermann claims that refugees are falsely claiming to be gay in order to “game the system”.  

November 2022: 

  • The Supreme Court rules the Rwanda policy unlawful. 

December 2023: 

  • British Home Secretary James Cleverly signs a new treaty with Rwanda promising that asylum seekers would be safe in the East African nation. 
  • A new Safety of Rwanda Bill is introduced to parliament. 
  • Robert Jenrick resigns as immigration minister after saying that the Rwanda plan does not go far enough in tackling illegal migration. 

(Credit: @aljazeera on Instagram)

The Tory government maintains that ending illegal migration is a top priority. To them, this means making the UK a less appealing destination for migrants.  

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said on X that his policies will prevent “criminal gangs” from controlling who enters the UK – referring to groups which have smuggled migrants across borders.  

But the party cannot seem to agree on whether the Rwanda scheme goes “too far” or “far enough” in curbing migration.  

Numerous human rights organisations have criticised the policy, given Rwanda’s poor track record for human rights and free speech.  

Others take issue with sending refugees to any third country, regardless of its reputation, after seeing similar policies fail when introduced in countries like Australia and Israel.  

The Prime Minister has been widely criticised for the Rwanda plan. (Credit: @freedomfromtorture via Instagram)

It is safe to say the government’s Rwanda plan has not gone smoothly so far. The issue of immigration remains an extremely emotional one. Politicians on the left and right, regardless of their party affiliations, frequently evoke this topic as part of a wider agenda.  

There is speculation that the scheme has become so divisive it may prompt a general election. 

It looks like Sunak’s government has reached a point of departure on their immigration policy. We can only hope that the next destination will be compassion for asylum seekers, and not more chaos.