UK sends first voluntary asylum seeker to Rwanda

Rishi Sunak
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LONDON – Britain has sent its first asylum seeker to Rwanda under a voluntary scheme, The Sun Newspaper reported on Tuesday, saying the unnamed migrant was flown out of the country on Monday.

The voluntary scheme is separate to a forced deportation programme that Britain is about to embark on in the next few months, seeking to deter asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel in small boats to live in Britain.

Under the voluntary scheme the government has said it would pay asylum seekers up to $3,747.60 each to move to Rwanda to help clear the backlog of refugees who have arrived in the country in recent years.

Read: UK gives estimate cost for asylum seekers in Rwanda deal

This new agreement is part of an existing government policy, where asylum seekers are offered financial assistance to leave Britain for their home country, but under this plan people will get the money if they agree to live in Rwanda.

A government spokesperson said they were able to send asylum seekers to Rwanda under its migration and economic development partnership.

“This deal allows people with no immigration status in the UK to be relocated to a safe third country where they will be supported to rebuild their lives,” the spokesperson said.

Tens of thousands of people have arrived in Britain in small boats since 2018, with many fleeing war or famine and travelling through Europe to Britain.

In response, the government has spent two years trying to overcome legal and political opposition to the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, some 6,400 km away, which it hopes will act as a deterrent.

Parliament finally passed the divisive legislation last week and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he expected the first flights to take off in 10 to 12 weeks.

Read: UK parliament passes Rwanda migration law

One organisation which works with asylum seekers said on X that they were protesting outside an immigration processing centre in south London to prevent a forced removal from the building. Media reports have said authorities will start collecting people soon for the first deportation flights to Rwanda.

A British government document published on Monday showed that the first asylum seekers to be deported from Britain to Rwanda would come from a group of 5,700 people that Kigali has agreed in principle to take.

But the document suggested the government would only be able to easily detain just over 2,000 of these.

Under the forced deportation scheme, anyone who has arrived illegally after Jan. 1, 2022, is eligible to be deported to Rwanda. More than 50,000 people have arrived since that date, official figures show.