• After another week of ‘parliamentary ping-pong’, the final vote on the Rwanda bill is expected to take place within days but issues relating to legal challenges, airlines and housing continue to jeopardise the eventual implementation of the scheme.
  • Despite the ongoing issues blighting its Rwanda scheme, the government has shortlisted Armenia, Botswana, Costa Rica and Côte d’Ivoire as possible future partners for similar agreements.
  • A group of NGOs have announced the launch of a new campaign aimed at closing the Bibby Stockholm barge that is being used to house asylum seekers off the south coast of England.
  • 70 asylum seekers who were being housed on a former military base in Essex have been moved into hotels following safety concerns about the site.
  • Freedom of information requests have revealed that dozens of Home Office Staff members are under criminal investigation for a variety of offences, including immigration crime, fraud and drug offences.

The lengthy legislative process over the Rwanda bill appears to have entered its final phase following another week of “parliamentary ping-pong”. On 15 April, almost exactly two years to the day since the Rwanda policy was originally proposed by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, MPs rejected all of the amendments that had been introduced by the House of Lords in March. There followed a series of votes in both houses which eventually resulted in the Lords adopting two amendments to the draft bill on 17 April. One of the amendments called for any deportations to Rwanda to be suspended until a committee of experts could decide if the country was safe, while the other called for people who had previously assisted the UK military to be exempt from deportation. Although the legislative process had been expected to have been completed on 17 April, another vote on the bill is now scheduled to take place in the House of Commons on 22 April. Following the latest vote in the House of Lords, Home Secretary James Cleverly criticised opposition Labour members for delaying the adoption of the bill in what he described as a “politically cynical effort” and accused them of being “terrified that the Rwanda scheme will work”. Shadow Minister for Immigration Stephen Kinnock hit back, saying: “Neither prime minister nor the home secretary believe this ‘batsh*t’ bill will end the chaos the Tories have created in our asylum system”. Speaking in the week prior to the votes, the executive director of ECRE member organisation the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, said that even if the bill became law, it would “not do anything to fix the government’s broken asylum system”. “The only way to do that is to process asylum applications in a fair and timely manner and to develop safe routes to refugee protection in the UK,” he added.

Leaving aside the difficulties faced by the government in ensuring the adoption of the relevant legislation, more evidence of the practical obstacles involved in the implementation of the Rwanda scheme has also emerged. Before any of the parliamentary votes had even taken place, several NGOs announced that they had identified a number of people who would likely be sent to Rwanda and that they were planning to provide them with legal support to challenge their deportations. “If parliament passes the Rwanda Bill next week we will leave no stone unturned to identify those at risk and signpost them to get legal support,” Care4Calais wrote on X. In addition, Rwanda’s state airline RwandAir has reportedly declined to participate in the scheme due to “fears about reputational harm. RwandAir refused the opportunity to transport people facing deportation from the UK to Rwanda because of the “potential damage to their brand”. Similarly, following reports that the government had engaged in discussions with the UK-based charter airline AirTanker, a campaign led by the NGO Freedom from Torture resulted in thousands of people urging the company to rule itself out of contention for the scheme as it had done two years earlier. Furthermore, it has been reported that the houses that had been earmarked as accommodation for people deported from the UK to Rwanda are being sold off. According to the Times, 70% of the 163 houses in the Bwiza Riverside Estate in Kigali had already been sold to local people, although the claim was denied by Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo.

Despite the fact that the Rwanda scheme has been severely delayed and is set to be far more expensive than originally foreseen, the government appears to be keen to adopt similar agreements with several other countries. According to documents seen by the Times, the UK has entered into negotiations with Armenia, Botswana, Costa Rica and Côte d’Ivoire with a view to establishing “third-country asylum processing” partnerships. The documents also listed several South American countries, including Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, that are considered as “less likely to be interested”, and several African countries, including Angola, Cape Verde, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Togo, that would be approached “if other targets failed”. A number of other countries, including the Gambia, Morocco, Namibia and Tunisia, are reported to have “explicitly declined” to enter into negotiations with the UK. The Times has claimed that the search for new partner countries for external migration deals was instigated by Rishi Sunak after he became Prime Minister in October 2022 and that he instructed both the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to explore “all possible plan-B options” in case the Rwanda scheme fell through. On 15 April, Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves announced that his country would not be entering into a migration partnership with the UK. “News has been circulating (that was causing alarm) that Costa Rica would take African migrants [from the UK], which is not true: We have told the United Kingdom that Costa Rica will not receive any migrants from overseas,” he X posted.

A group of NGOs have announced that they are stepping up their efforts to promote the closure of the barge that is being used to house asylum seekers off the south coast of England. Care4Calais, the Portland Global Friendship Group and Stand Up To Racism Dorset have said that they are planning to launch a “people’s inquiry” into the use of the Bibby Stockholm barge and that the outcomes will be used to lobby parliament. “We are inviting MPs, trade unions, care professionals, volunteers, barge staff and the barge residents themselves to submit evidence about their experience of the Bibby Stockholm, and why they believe it should be shut down as refugee accommodation,” the NGOs wrote on Facebook. The inquiry is due to be launched on 23 April in the Palace of Westminster. “We believe the barge is inhumane and should be shut down, so we are taking our campaign to Parliament,” said the Joint Secretary of Stand Up To Racism Dorset, Candy Udwin. She also highlighted the group’s concerns about the mental health of the residents on the barge where 27-year-old resident Leonard Farruku from Albania took his own life in December 2023. “There has been one death already and it is of real concern to us about the mental health situation for people on board,” she said, adding: “We hope we will contribute to people looking at more humane alternatives”.

Elsewhere, asylum seekers who were being housed on a former military base in Essex are being moved following the identification of a number of safety risks, including “contamination risk from gases, radiological contamination and unexploded ordnance”. A special development order (SDO) that was granted in order to allow the Home Office to use RAF Wethersfield as accommodation also highlighted concerns about the “suitable storage for fuel and other hazardous substances and satisfactory arrangements for drinking water”. As a result, 70 asylum seekers were moved from the former airbase – the Home Office’s largest mass accommodation site, and where the NGOs Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Doctors of the World had started providing medical care in January, into hotels. Commenting on the decision to move the asylum seekers away from the site, Maddie Harris, the director of the Humans for Rights Network, an NGO which supports them, said: “The Home Office continues to put the health and welfare of men at RAF Wethersfield at risk. We have heard from hundreds of men held there, now further supported by the contents of the SDO, that the site is not fit for purpose”. “Rather than provide safe and secure accommodation, the Home Office insists on pursuing its harmful policy of accommodating men in poor conditions,” she added.

The Guardian has reported that “dozens” of Home Office staff members are under criminal investigation for various offences, including “immigration crime, fraud and drug offences”. The revelations resulted from the Home Office’s response to a freedom of information request which showed that “16 allegations were either awaiting charging advice or trial and a further 18 were under investigation”. The Guardian also reported that separate data that had been disclosed by the Home Office to a civil servant in February also revealed that 60 staff members had been dismissed for a variety of offences, including “bullying, harassment, discrimination, abuse of position, theft corruption, fraud or forgery” between 2019-20 and 2023-24. Commenting on the revelations, the executive director of the NGO Asylum Matters, Louise Calvey, said: “It’s hugely alarming and worrying to hear that such a large number of people involved in making decisions on immigration status have such significant concerns being investigated against them”. “To hear that people entrusted and empowered to make decisions on people’s lives are being investigated for such significant concerns including immigration offences and fraud is shocking,” she added. On 18 April, the BBC reported that a Home Office caseworker had been arrested “on suspicion of trying to sell UK residency to an asylum seeker living in Northern Ireland”. It revealed that the staff member had “allegedly contacted a vulnerable man” and requested £2,000 “in return for approving his refugee application”. The unnamed man’s solicitor, Sinead Marmion, praised her client’s “integrity” for reporting the incident. “For him to be able to raise an issue like this took a lot of guts,” she said. The man, who said that he had been persecuted by the authorities in his home country and that he had been “afraid of the Home Office and other institutions here”, said that he was “relieved” that his refugee status had since been confirmed.

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