A Timeline of Britain’s Troubled Plan to Send Asylum Seekers to Rwanda

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Britain’s Conservative government hopes to pass the Safety of Rwanda Bill on Wednesday, after a prolonged back and forth through the two houses of Parliament in which the legislation has come under sustained criticism.

The bill is intended to clear the way for the government to put some asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda, in Central Africa, without first hearing their cases. Human rights experts have denounced that approach, which they say breaches Britain’s obligations under domestic and international law.

Crucially, under the government’s plans, even asylum seekers who were granted refugee status would be resettled in Rwanda, not Britain. The plan was deemed unlawful by Britain’s highest court late last year, with judges ruling that Rwanda was not a safe country for refugees to have their asylum cases heard or to be resettled. The purpose of the government’s new bill is to overrule the Supreme Court, in a complicated piece of legislative wrangling that has raised concerns about the rule of law and the separation of powers in Britain.

Three successive Conservative prime ministers have pursued the plan, arguing that it would deter people from attempting the dangerous crossing of the English Channel in small boats. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly vowed to “stop the boats” before the British election this fall, and he has heralded the Rwanda bill as a crucial step toward that goal.

Britain has already paid Rwanda hundreds of millions of British pounds in development support and in fees to enact the plan. But not a single asylum seeker has been sent there yet, and legal challenges could thwart future deportation attempts. Here’s what has happened so far.

March 2021

Boris Johnson lays the groundwork for a new approach to asylum seekers.

The British government, led at the time by the former prime minister Boris Johnson, pledged “comprehensive reform” of the country’s asylum system, floating several measures, including the removal of asylum seekers who arrive in Britain by boat or other “illegal” routes to third countries for processing. Mr. Johnson, a leading campaigner for Brexit, had promised to “take back control” of Britain’s borders by leaving the European Union.

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