Case study The Rwanda Bill

What is the Rwanda asylum plan?

Under a five-year agreement, some asylum seekers arriving in the UK would be sent to Rwanda, to have their claims processed there

If successful, they could be granted refugee status and allowed to stay. If not, they could apply to settle in Rwanda on other grounds, or seek asylum in another "safe third country".

No asylum seeker would be able to apply to return to the UK.

Anyone "entering the UK illegally" after 1 January 2022 could be sent to Rwanda, the government said, with no limit on numbers.

Ministers argue the plan would deter people from arriving in the UK on small boats across the English Channel.

However, when the scheme was first announced, the most senior Home Office civil servant said there was little evidence the effect would be "significant enough to make the policy value for money".

No asylum seeker has yet been sent to Rwanda, which is a small landlocked country in east-central Africa, 4,000 miles (6,500km) from the UK.

The first flight was scheduled to go in June 2022, but was cancelled after legal challenges.

24th Jan:  'The House of Lords voted 214-171 to delay prime minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship UK-Rwanda immigration treaty, with the major setback likely to enrage right-wing Conservatives and put Sunak’s administration on the back foot again'. 

Lords amendments to the government's Rwanda legislation focused on a treaty to ensure Rwanda is safe is enacted, and will also seek safety assurances from the UN.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is among those who has put his name to a number of proposed amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which came back to the House of Lords on Monday.

He has signed on to changes also proposed by Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti, and Baroness Hale, the former president of the Supreme Court who found Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful. 

Among their suggested changes are revisions that would mean – if they are accepted – "positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda" should be "laid before Parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda". 

Other amendments, backed by the same trio, would ensure that “proper regard” is given to any interim injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights, and give domestic courts more powers to prevent individuals from being sent to Rwanda. 

23 April 2024 Rishi Sunak's Rwanda bill finally passed through the House of Lords and will become law after a parliamentary showdown ended late in the night. Plans to send some asylum seekers to Africa have met with fierce criticism, but the bill passed on Monday when the Lords dropped their opposition. Mr Sunak said in a statement "Nothing will stand in our way" now of getting flights off the ground.

But the scheme could still be held up by challenges in the courts.

Leading lawyer and independent crossbencher Lord Anderson of Ipswich said of the Rwanda scheme: “Its benefits remain to be seen. Its costs will be measured, not only in money, but in principles debased: disregard for our international commitments, avoiding statutory protections for the vulnerable, and the removal of judicial scrutiny over the core issue of the safety of Rwanda.”