First asylum seeker flown to Rwanda under voluntary relocation scheme

The first failed asylum seeker has been sent to Rwanda after he voluntarily agreed to leave the UK.

The unnamed man went to Kigali on a commercial flight after being offered up to £3,000. He was flown to Rwanda on Monday as part of a side scheme for those who have gone through the asylum process and have had their claims rejected.

It is separate from the forced deportation of illegal immigrants policy. Flights for that plan, the government’s flagship immigration policy, are due to take off in the summer after the Safety of Rwanda Bill cleared both houses of parliament earlier this month.

It was claimed that Monday’s flight was the first time the government has ever relocated a failed asylum seeker to a third country and ministers are likely to claim it is evidence the Rwanda plan will work.

However, a voluntary scheme would not face the same legal challenges that have delayed Rishi Sunak’s efforts to forcibly deport people from the UK.

Yvette Cooper said the move was an “extortionate pre-election gimmick”, with voters going to the polls for local elections on Thursday. The shadow home secretary said: “The Tories are so desperate to get any flight off to Rwanda before the local elections that they have now just paid someone to go.

File photo: The exterior of the Hope Hostel, which is one of the locations expected to house some of the asylum-seekers sent to Rwanda (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
File photo: The exterior of the Hope Hostel, which is one of the locations expected to house some of the asylum-seekers sent to Rwanda (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“British taxpayers aren’t just forking out £3,000 for a volunteer to board a plane, they are also paying Rwanda to provide him with free board and lodgings for the next five years.”

And, attacking Mr Sunak from the right, Nigel Farage said the policy of paying migrants to volunteer for deportation “won’t stop the boats”. “ Don’t be conned by this new government spin on the Rwanda deal... this African man, who did not even cross the Channel, was refused asylum and has voluntarily accepted £3,000 + free board,” the former Brexit Party leader said.

It is understood the man was not from Rwanda, though The Sun, which first reported the story, said he was of “African origin”.

The voluntary return scheme was widened to include Rwanda as a destination earlier this year.

The failed asylum claimant took the voluntary offer some weeks ago, and is now in Rwanda it is understood, with The Sun reporting his flight left on Monday evening.

At the start of March, the government unveiled plans for the voluntary side scheme under which the person was sent to Kigali.

It involves migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected given thousands of pounds for choosing to go to Rwanda.

The scheme is aimed at individuals who do not have an outstanding asylum claim and are in a position to be relocated swiftly to Kigali.

Labour had accused ministers of “resorting to paying people” to go Rwanda upon realising their deportation scheme “has no chance of succeeding.”

The Safety of Rwanda Bill became law last week after months of back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The legislation unilaterally declared Rwanda a safe country after concerns were raised about its human rights record, ignoring rulings by the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

The prime minister insisted this week that flights carrying asylum-seekers to Rwanda would take off in July and the Home Office confirmed it would start detaining asylum seekers within weeks, sparking protests at locations where raids were reportedly due to take place.

On Monday night it emerged that the Home Office had lost contact with thousands of asylum seekers who had been scheduled for deportation.

According to a government document, only 2,143 out of the 5,700 people identified for removal to the East African nation “continue to report to the Home Office and can be located for detention”.

File photo: Migrants in small boat at Dunkirk, France (BBC)
File photo: Migrants in small boat at Dunkirk, France (BBC)

On Tuesday, health secretary Victoria Atkins told Sky News that the Home Office is “used to this” and law enforcement agencies have “a range of measures” to find and remove people who are not reporting as required.

She said: “We want the message to go out loud and clear that if somebody doesn’t report as they should do, they shouldn’t think that they’ll get away with it. They will be found.”

The figures came from an impact assessment of the Government’s Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, under which the UK has agreed to pay Kigali to take asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel in small boats.

The document also acknowledged there could be further delays to deportations caused by MPs making last-minute representations to suspend removals.

The news of the first flight comes ahead of what is expected to be a testing set of local and mayoral elections for Mr across England and Wales, in which the Conservatives are likely to suffer heavy losses.

The PM has made “stopping the boats” one of his five pledges to the public, with the asylum seeker’s removal seen as a signal to voters that the government’s wider migration agenda can be made to work.

A government spokesperson said: “We are now able to send asylum seekers to Rwanda under our 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.”