A group of migrants rescued from a boat in the Channel arrived on Dungeness beach in southern England on May 15, 2022 | Photo: Stuart Brock/AA/picture alliance
A group of migrants rescued from a boat in the Channel arrived on Dungeness beach in southern England on May 15, 2022 | Photo: Stuart Brock/AA/picture alliance

The British government has notified 50 newly-arrived asylum seekers that they are to be deported to Rwanda, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. They reportedly have 14 days to object.

In an interview published in the British tabloid Daily Mail on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the first group of 50 migrants had been served with notices that they will be removed to Rwanda under the so-called Migration and Economic Development Partnership.

The Rwanda policy took effect on April 14 and is aimed at outsourcing the processing of asylum claims from the UK to the East African country. It is retrospective, meaning that anyone who has arrived irregularly in the UK since January 1, 2022 may be relocated under the agreement.

The controversial policy is already facing a number of legal challenges, and activists have accused the home secretary, Priti Patel, of "racist" and "inhumane" policies.

Even the former British prime minister, Theresa May, who supports cutting asylum claims in the UK and was responsible for the country’s 'hostile environment' policy -- a set of measures aimed at driving irregular migrants out of the country -- has questioned the legality and practicality of the Rwanda scheme, suggesting it could lead to an increase in human trafficking.

Johnson told the Mail that his government was prepared to fight to keep the policy in place. "We've got a huge flowchart of things we have to do to deal with it with the Leftie lawyers," he told the tabloid.

Removal details still unclear

While a Home Office spokesperson said in early May that the government was aiming for the first flights to leave for Rwanda "in a matter of months," they said it had to deal first with a number of variables, including legal challenges. Just a week ago the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration invited tenders for a Rwanda expert to review the government’s assessment on the asylum and human rights situation in the country. Submissions for the contract are not due until May 30.

Government prepared to fight

The government’s new asylum law, the Nationality and Borders Act, which came into force in late April, has also continued to face strong opposition, including from the UN refugee agency. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi has said the legislation "undermines the ability of people in danger to seek refuge in the UK and weakens refugee protection worldwide."

In his interview with the Mail, Johnson said he is prepared to "dig in for the fight" against those seeking to block "the will of the people." The position of the government is that the decision to leave the European Union was a vote of support for cracking down on what it calls illegal immigration.

Opinion polls do not paint a clear picture of whether the British public supports the government's Rwanda policy. A poll by YouGov found that a majority rejected an even more moderate version of the plan, while a survey by the Daily Mail suggested that two thirds were in favor of the scheme.

Johnson also indicated to the Mail that he was prepared to review the UK’s human rights protection. When asked about a possible review of the the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which is incorporated into the UK’s Human Rights Act, he said, "We’ll look at everything. Nothing is off the table."


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