The Home Secretary visits Rwanda to reaffirm commitment to “innovative partnership” between both countries on the £140m deportation deal amid ongoing legal battles. Braverman’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill faces mounting pressure from within her own ranks. Private firms are making increased profits from asylum hotels.

Suella Braverman made her first trip to Rwanda on 19 March as the UK’s Home Secretary to “reaffirm commitment to the ground-breaking partnership” and discuss the controversial £140m deportation deal that will allegedly act “as a powerful deterrent against dangerous and illegal journey”. The trip comes as the plan continues to be mired in legal challenges. Braverman met with senior Rwandan politicians including President Paul Kagame and signed an update to the agreement to expand the “partnership further to all categories of people who pass through safe countries and make illegal and dangerous journeys to the UK”. The Home Office announced that the plan is to deport migrants to Rwanda by the summer – all dependent on the ongoing legal battles – while the Rwandan government expressed its preparedness to “absorb the thousands that will come from the UK”. During her trip, she also visited facilities being built to house migrants removed from the UK and said that she was “incredibly impressed” adding that “These houses are really beautiful, great quality, really welcoming and I really like your interior designer…I need some advice for myself”. Following the inspection of centres, she said at a news conference attended by Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta: “I sincerely believe that this world-leading partnership … is both humanitarian and compassionate and also fair and balanced”. Biruta confirmed her statements saying that the proposals “offer better opportunities for migrants and Rwandans alike”. Braverman has been criticised for refusing access for outlets like BBC and the Guardian favoring media likely to provide “favourable coverage” that reinforces the British government’s migration plan. Sonya Sceats, the chief executive at Freedom from Torture stated: “Braverman is jetting off on a showboat trip to Rwanda the very week that the court of appeal has accepted that there are serious questions to be answered over the legality of this government’s cash-for-humans scheme”. Rights organisations have long pointed out Rwanda’s track record of human rights abuses. Rejecting this criticism, Braverman said it would be a “blessing” for refugees to be permanently resettled there instead of in Britain and encouraged her critics to visit Rwanda to see “What this beautiful country has to offer”. Meanwhile, the British government held “constructive talks” with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over possible reforms to the court order that grounded deportation flights last year. A government source said that if implemented, the reforms “would remove a key barrier to getting flights off the ground”.

UK’s Home Secretary continues to face mounting pressure over the controversial Illegal Migration Bill – defined as an asylum ban by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – not only from rights organisations and political opposition but also from within her own party. Senior Tories have been working on remolding and overhauling the proposals impacting vulnerable groups such as children and trafficking victims despite Braverman’s resistance to any amendments. A report by ECRE member, the Refugee Council on the overall impact of the illegal migration bill predicts that nearly 200,000 people could be locked up or forced into destitution and that almost 45,000 children could have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible under the new laws. Based on these estimations, the charity expects that the cost of the government’s plan to crack down on channel crossing will cross £9 billion in the first three years.  Meanwhile, thousands of protestors took to the streets on 18 March across different British cities in objection to the bill. Demonstrators carried signs and banners reading “no human is illegal” and “Blame the billionaires, not the people in small boats”. The Scottish Bishops released a statement underlining: “The Bill fails to provide sufficient detail on the establishment of more safe and legal routes for people seeking sanctuary in the UK. These routes, which are a lifeline to many desperate and vulnerable people, are essential if the Government is serious about ending perilous Channel crossings”, urging the government to respect its international obligations. In an op-ed about the bill, “the most extreme and draconian piece of legislation the Conservatives have passed”, columnist  Ian Dunt argues that the bill shows that the Tories are going through a “governance crisis” but “it’s refugees who will pay the price for it”. A total of 482 people took the dangerous journey in small boats to the UK between 17-19 March.

Private firms are making increased profits from asylum hotels. According to a government source 395 hotels are now in use to accommodate more than 51,000 asylum seekers, at a cost of more than £6m a day. Documents show one booking agency used by the Home Office trebled its pre-tax profits from £2.1m to £6.3m in the 12 months up to February 2022 and a smaller firm, Calder Conferences, received £20.6m in payments from the Home Office in 2021 to book hotels – that figure increased to £97m in 2022. New reports of children being moved out of London hotels just weeks prior to their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams on 15 May. Reportedly, the Home Office is “shunting” young Afghan refugees around the UK “like cattle”. 18-year-old Afghan refugee Yalda Nadiri who learned English in the past 18 months and dreams of becoming a doctor was moved along with her family against their will from a hotel in London to another in Leeds. Nadiri has been unable to find a school and will now be unable to take her GCSE exams. “Everything about this is wrong. Traumatised young people who are succeeding despite all the odds against them are having their education sabotaged”, said MP Andy Slaughter. Another case concerns a 16-year-old teen from Sudan, whose father is missing and presumably dead in her home country, is facing deportation in the middle of her GCSE year as her family’s asylum application was rejected. “The fact the Home Office has focused on a child with no father shows how broken the system is. It is criminals we should be focusing on – not defenseless children, working hard to make something of their lives in exceptionally challenging circumstances?”, MP Peter Kyle said. Meanwhile, a group of 40 asylum seekers are resisting their removal from the London hotel they have been living in, fearing “they could be taken to either a remote, rural location, or a Bedfordshire hotel that has been aggressively targeted by the far-right”. Reportedly, the Home Office is discussing plans to house asylums seekers at Royal Air Force Station in accommodation including temporary cabins on the runway. The Home Office justifying the plans said: “We have always been upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country”.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.