Sunak claims migrants going to Ireland shows Rwanda plan is working, despite no flights taking off

Since the Rwanda policy was proposed in April 2022, not a single flight has left for the east African nation

Tom Watling
Sunday 28 April 2024 08:15 BST
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Sunak confirms Rwanda flights will take off in 10 to 12 weeks

Rishi Sunak has pounced on claims that migrants are heading to Ireland from the UK over fears of being sent to Rwanda as evidence that his deportation plan is working – despite no flights having taken off.

Deputy Irish premier Micheal Martin claimed on Friday there had been a rise in migrants crossing the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic over fears of being sent on a one-way flight to the east African nation under Mr Sunak's flagship policy.

The prime minister responded on Saturday claiming that this was evidence that the deterrent effect of the Rwanda plan was “already having an impact”. This is despite not a single flight having left for Rwanda since the plan was proposed more than two years ago.

The legislation ensuring the plan is legally sound, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act, cleared its passage through parliament this week and was signed into law on Thursday. But Mr Sunak acknowledged it could still take 10 to 12 weeks to get flights in the air, in a blow to his earlier target of the spring of this year.

In an interview with Sky News’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, which will air in full on Sunday, the prime minister was challenged over whether the UK is simply exporting the problem.

Mr Sunak said: “My focus is on the United Kingdom and securing our borders. But what [Mr Martin’s] comment illustrates is a couple of things.

“One, that illegal migration is a global challenge, which is why you’re seeing multiple countries talk about doing third-country partnerships, looking at novel ways to solve this problem, and I believe will follow where the UK has led.

“But what it also shows, I think, is that the deterrent is, according to your comment, already having an impact, because people are worried about coming here and that demonstrates exactly what I’m saying.

“If people come to our country illegally, but know that they won’t be able to stay, they’re much less likely to come, and that’s why the Rwanda scheme is so important.”

Migrants wave to a smuggler's boat in an attempt to cross the English Channel, on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk
Migrants wave to a smuggler's boat in an attempt to cross the English Channel, on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk (AFP via Getty Images)

It comes after Mr Martin told the Telegraph the Rwanda policy was already affecting Ireland because people were “fearful” of staying in Britain.

He said asylum seekers were hoping “to get sanctuary here and within the European Union, as opposed to the potential of being deported to Rwanda”.

The border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, a European Union member, is the only land border between the UK and the EU since Britain left the bloc.

Ministers plan to send asylum seekers coming to the UK on flights to Rwanda, with the aim of deterring others from crossing the English Channel on small boats.

Downing Street on Friday rebuffed claims the plan was already influencing movements into Ireland, saying it was too early to jump to conclusions on its impact.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “Of course, we will monitor this very closely and we already work very closely, as you would expect, with the Irish government, including on matters relating to asylum.

“But of course, the intention behind the act is to have it serve as a deterrent and that is why we are working to get flights off the ground as swiftly as possible.”

Mr Martin, who also serves as Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, told reporters in Dublin that there was a “clear … increase in numbers” and suggested the Rwanda policy was a “fairly obvious” cause.

Irish ministers suggested earlier this week there had been a rise in the number of migrants crossing the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Justice minister Helen McEntee told a committee of the Irish parliament that more than 80 per cent of migrants in Ireland had entered from the UK.

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