UK: Bill to deport migrants to Rwanda passed

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wins approval from the House of Commons despite heated debates.

After two days of heated debates and tensions within the majority, British Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally obtained the green light from MPs for his controversial bill aimed at outsourcing the asylum application system to Rwanda. The text was adopted at third reading in the House of Commons, with 320 votes in favor and 276 votes against.

This vote marks a relief for Rishi Sunak, currently lagging behind in the polls against the Labor Party in this election year. The Prime Minister put all his political weight behind this project, designed to demonstrate his firmness on one of the main concerns of his electoral base, even as it highlighted divisions within his own party. Some moderate MPs fear the project could result in a violation of international law, while more conservatives want an even stricter approach.

The bill aims to address concerns raised by the UK Supreme Court over the safety of asylum seekers sent to Rwanda in its previous version of the bill. According to this new version, all asylum seekers, regardless of their origin, will have their files examined in Rwanda. If successful, they will only be able to obtain asylum in Rwanda, with no possibility of returning to the United Kingdom.

During the debates, many conservative deputies tried, in vain, to toughen the text by proposing amendments aimed in particular at limiting the rights of migrants to appeal their expulsion. Tensions were exacerbated after the resignation of two vice-presidents of the Conservative Party, in favor of a stricter line, and supported by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Initiated in April 2022 by Boris Johnson, this project aimed to deter the influx of migrants across the Channel, which reached almost 30,000 people last year, after a record of 45,000 in 2022. However, the project has not yet been able to be implemented. A first deportation flight was blocked at the last minute by European justice, and British justice, up to the Supreme Court, judged the project illegal in its initial version.

To save its project, the government signed a new treaty with Rwanda, which serves as the legal basis for this new version of the bill. The treaty defines Rwanda as a safe third country, preventing the return of migrants to their countries of origin. In addition, the bill plans not to apply certain provisions of the British Human Rights Act to evictions, in order to limit legal recourse.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said this latest version of the bill was “incompatible” with international law. The text will now have to be approved by the unelected members of the House of Lords, who could modify it. If adopted before the legislative elections scheduled for the fall, the Labor Party, led by Keir Starmer, has promised to repeal it if it comes to power after fourteen years in opposition.

Traveling to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Rwandan President Paul Kagame commented on his country’s bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom. This controversial agreement provides for the sending of migrants who arrived illegally on British territory to Rwanda, which has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Interviewed by BBC journalists, President Kagame discussed the financial aspect of the deal, saying that if the asylum seekers did not come, “we can send the money back.” The UK has already paid almost £240 million to Rwanda for the scheme, intended to cover the initial costs of welcoming migrants and to promote Rwanda’s economic development.

President Kagame also responded to questions about legal obstacles to implementing the deal by saying it was a problem for the UK, not Rwanda.

This article is originally published on lesinguliersete.fr

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