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UK Rwanda migrants bill set for parliamentary ‘ping-pong’

By AFP - Mar 08,2024 - Last updated at Mar 08,2024

LONDON — Controversial plans to send migrants from the UK to Rwanda will return to the House of Commons this month after parliament’s upper chamber recommended several changes to the scheme, the government announced on Thursday.

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship plan to “stop the boats” of asylum seekers crossing the Channel from France has suffered 10 defeats in the unelected House of Lords in recent days.

Lawmakers in the elected lower chamber will debate and vote on those amendments on March 18, Commons leader and Tory MP Penny Mordaunt told parliament.

The announcement sets the stage for a period of legislative “ping-pong”, where a bill gets batted back and forth between the two chambers until agreement is finally reached on its wording.

Sunak has made slashing irregular migration a key plank of his bid to defeat a resurgent Labour opposition in a general election due to be held later this year. His party trail badly in the polls.

He insists the much-stalled scheme is needed to deter tens of thousands of migrants arriving on Britain’s shores each year aboard rudimentary vessels.

As of Wednesday, 3,208 people have made the crossing this year, according to an AFP tally based on published government statistics.


Sunak under pressure 


The deportation proposal has been mired in controversy and legal challenges since it was first unveiled by then-prime minister Boris Johnson in 2022. No migrants have been sent to Rwanda yet.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is Sunak’s answer to a UK supreme court ruling late last year that deporting asylum seekers to Kigali is illegal under international law.

The legislation seeks to compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe third country.

It would also give UK ministers powers to disregard sections of international and British human rights legislation.

The Lords amendments restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts regarding the safety of Rwanda and enables them to intervene.

They also rule that parliament cannot declare Rwanda to be safe until a separate treaty with Kigali over promised safeguards is fully implemented.

The amendments pose a headache for Sunak. He is under pressure from Tory right-wingers to put migrants on planes before the election and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

The National Audit Office has said it would cost British taxpayers more than £500 million ($640 million) to send the first 300 asylum seekers to Rwanda.

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