The Rwanda Bill Is Almost Law. Here's What You Need To Know

Flights could be taking off this summer – two years after the last attempt to get planes off the ground failed.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
WPA Pool via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak’s controversial Rwanda bill finally passed through parliament late last night – but what does that really mean?

While it was a major step in turning this bill into law, flights will not be taking off until July at the very earliest.

But, it was still a major win for the prime minister. Here’s what you need to know.

Why is the UK sending people to Rwanda?

To recap, the Conservative Party is keen to send people arriving in the UK via small boats to Rwanda to prove it is tackling the country’s so-called illegal immigration issue.

The government wants to send asylum seekers – people looking for the UK’s protection who do not have authorisation from another safe country – to Rwanda.

That generally means those who came across the channel in small boats.

There are approximately 52,000 people in the UK who fall under this definition.

Migrants waiting to get their asylum claims processed are currently waiting in Home Office-funded accommodation, unable to get a job as they wait in limbo.

The policy – first publicised when Boris Johnson was still in No.10 – was put at the forefront of Sunak’s premiership when he made “stopping the boats” one of his five pledges for 2023.

The threat of deporting asylum seekers to another continent is meant to act as a deterrent – although boat crossings have actually crept up by 24% this year, compared to 2023.

Migrants are brought ashore after being picked up in the English Channel by a Border Force vessel on November 16, 2023
Migrants are brought ashore after being picked up in the English Channel by a Border Force vessel on November 16, 2023
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

What about migrants with a legal right to stay in the UK?

This is one of the major problems with the Rwanda plan – these asylum seekers are being sent overseas for processing.

That means the government is deporting them there before even deciding if they have a legal claim to be granted UK protection.

However, it is very unlikely these people will be found to have a genuine claim.

If those deported do have a claim, it’s unlikely it will be processed in time before the PM manages to call a general election.

When might flights take off?

The earliest a flight could take off is 12 days after the King has given the bill royal assent ( the final stage which formally turns it into law).

However, the PM said on Monday that they do not expect flights to take off for the next 10 to 12 weeks.

So deportations would not start until late June to early July, despite Sunak’s previous Spring deadline.

He said on Monday: “That is later than we wanted, but we have always been clear that processing will take time.”

It will also take around two weeks to deport someone.

Officials first have to identify people who fit the bill, then the asylum seekers need a week’s notice they could be deported; and then they need five days’ notice when it has been confirmed.

That length of time extends if someone is not being held in an immigration removal centre – and this might get longer if they want to challenge it in the courts.

According to the BBC, even if the Home Office managed to deport 15,000 people – a number last seen in 2012 – it would take more than three years to relocate everyone.

What could still delay the Rwanda flights?

The plans have been weighed down with legal challenges ever since the first flight tried to take off back in June 2022.

The ECHR ruled it was unlawful, declaring that British judges needed to examine arguments against it thoroughly before any flights could take off.

Then the UK Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful, too.

The only way the PM has managed to work around this was to instruct civil servants to ignore human rights safeguarding issues.

But migrants could still go to the European Court of Human Rights over the issue.

Unions for workers in the immigration system or civil service may also present significant opposition, if employees say they feel like they’ve been told to ignore human rights laws in the plan.

One major sticking point for the legislation is the claim Rwanda is a safe country – which the Supreme Court denied only in November.

A legal rule means refugees have to be removed to safe countries – and not sent somewhere they could face a risk to their life or poor treatment.

The government unveiled the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill to counter this in November, and Sunak revealed on Monday that he has a large body of legal experts ready to deflect any legal challenges.


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