KIGALI, Rwanda - Britain's government said Sunday that it could start deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda in the next few months - but only if U.K. courts rule that the controversial policy is legal.
The Home Office said it was aiming to start flights 'before the summer,' as Home Secretary Suella Braverman visited the east African country to reinforce the Conservative government's commitment to the plan.
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman, left, and Rwanda's Minister of Infrastructure Ernest Nsabimana, center, lay bricks in Kigali, Rwanda, March 19, 2023.
In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, she met with President Paul Kagame and Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, visited accommodations intended to house deportees from the U.K. and laid a brick at another housing development for migrants. The project is expected to build more than 1,000 houses.
'I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing firsthand the rich opportunities this country can provide to relocated people through our partnership,' Braverman said.
Biruta said Rwanda would offer migrants 'the opportunity to build new lives in a safe, secure place through accommodation, education and vocational training.'
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told reporters the country is ready to receive thousands of migrants from the U.K., saying she doesn't consider living in Rwanda 'a punishment.' She said Rwanda is determined to make the agreement a success.
Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Rwanda Infrastructure Minister Ernest Nsabimana, and Kigali Mayor Pudence Rubingisa inspect a project, Kigali, Rwanda, March 19, 2023.
The U.K. and Rwanda struck a deal almost a year ago under which some migrants who arrive in the U.K. in small boats would be flown to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. Those granted asylum would stay in Rwanda rather than return to Britain.
The U.K. government argues the policy will smash the business model of people-smuggling gangs and deter migrants from taking risky journeys across the English Channel.
More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain by boat in 2022, compared with 8,500 in 2020.
But the 140 million-pound ($170 million) plan is mired in legal challenges, and no one has yet been sent to Rwanda. In December, the High Court ruled the policy was legal, but a group of asylum-seekers from countries including Iran, Iraq and Syria has been granted permission to appeal.
Human rights groups cite Rwanda's poor human rights record, and argue it's inhumane to send people more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) to a country they don't want to live in.
Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman, listens to Rwanda's Minister of Education Valentine Uwamariya, during a visit to Kepler University in Kigali, Rwanda, March 19, 2023.
The government also has drafted legislation barring anyone who arrives in the U.K. in small boats or by other unauthorized means from applying for asylum. If passed by Parliament, the Illegal Migration Bill would compel the government to detain all such arrivals and deport them to their homeland or a 'safe third country' such as Rwanda.
The U.N. refugee agency says the law breaches U.K. commitments under the international refugee convention.
Braverman faces criticism for inviting only selected media on her taxpayer-funded trip to Rwanda. Journalists from right-leaning outlets including The Times and The Telegraph newspapers and television channel GB News were invited, while the BBC and the left-leaning Guardian newspaper weren't.