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Sunak: First migrant flights to Rwanda begin in ‘10-12 weeks’


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference at Downing Street in London, April 22, 2024.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference at Downing Street in London, April 22, 2024.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Monday the first flights carrying asylum-seekers to Rwanda will leave in 10 to 12 weeks, as he seeks to make good on a campaign promise to address the problem of illegal migrants.

At a news conference Monday, Sunak said the flights are booked, Rwanda is ready, and the flights relocating asylum-seekers to the central African nation will proceed.

The prime minister said legislation that has been tied up for about two months in the unelected House of Lords — which sought to add safeguards to the deportation plan — will be taken up by the House of Commons later Monday.

“Parliament will sit there tonight and vote no matter how late it goes,” Sunak said.

Sunak’s government first reached a five-year, $150 million deal with Rwanda in April 2022 to send an unspecified number of asylum-seekers arriving across the English Channel in small boats to Kigali for processing.

Since 2018, migrants, crossing in small boats from France, have arrived in Britain in record numbers. When he became prime minister in 2022, Sunak listed “stopping the boats” as one of his five priorities.

The Rwandan government had constructed reception centers and accommodations in the capital to house the migrants, and the first flight was just minutes from takeoff in June 2022, when it was blocked by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights, which barred any removals until the conclusion of legal action in Britain.

Then last November, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that the policy of sending asylum-seekers to Rwanda for processing was illegal, as it did not guarantee the safety of the migrants. The bill moving slowly through parliament is meant to address those issues.

Sunak said Monday the government will begin the process of removing those designated for the first flight "starting from the moment that the bill passes.”

He said they have 200 case workers “ready and waiting to process claims,” and have increased detention spaces to a total of 2,200, to detain the illegal migrants until they can be flown to Rwanda.

Sunak said for the plan to deter migrants from coming to Britain, it cannot rest on one flight alone. He said it must be a “relentless, continual process” of flights removing people to Rwanda “until the boats are stopped.”

The prime minister said he was confident the plan complied with all of Britain's internal and international legal obligations. He added, “If it ever comes to a choice between our national security, securing our borders and membership of a foreign court, I'm, of course, always going to prioritize on national security.”

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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