What is the Rwanda Scheme and what are its aims?

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice. 28 July 2022

The Rwanda Asylum Scheme is an immigration policy proposed by the British Government, in which individuals identified by the United Kingdom as being illegal immigrants or asylum seekers may be relocated to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement. It was enacted in April 2022 by British Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta. Once transferred to Rwanda, people will have the option to claim asylum. Initially, they will be placed in temporary accommodation whilst their applications are considered. According to Rwandan officials, migrants will be free to come and go from this accommodation.

The British government claims that the policy will deter people from making dangerous journeys to the UK to claim asylum. Border Force staff said they expect 60,000 people to make the dangerous journey across the channel this year, more that double the 28,526 from last year. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the Channel as turning into a “watery graveyard”.

Who will the Scheme affect? 

From 14 April 2022, the government’s guidance states that asylum applicants may be eligible for transfer to Rwanda if the government decides that they were previously present in or had a connection to another country in which they were able to claim asylum, if their “journey to the UK can be described as having been dangerous”, and if they travelled on or after 1 January 2022. It states that a “dangerous journey is one able or likely to cause harm or injury. For example, this would include those that travel via small boat, or clandestinely in lorries.”

Anyone who meets this criterion, of any age, can be relocated, except from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Rwandan nationals are also exempt due to the principle of non-refoulement, meaning that under the Refugee Convention, it is forbidden to return people to territories where they may be under threat. 

The scheme is to be primarily for adults but families could be relocated there together in exceptional circumstances. It is likely the scheme will focus on young single men as its target group. Priti Patel announced in Parliament  that “in the last 12 months alone, 70% of the individuals who have come to our country illegally via small boats are single men, who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers. These are the ones who are elbowing out the women and children, who are at risk and fleeing persecution.” Whilst government documents do not explicitly name single, male asylum seekers as the focus of the policy, they do note that 75% of small boat arrivals in 2021 were adult males aged 18-39, so it is likely the policy will particularly affect this group. 

The scheme does not apply to those who have started their asylum application prior to 28 June 2022. 

Is there an appeals process?

Individuals are given five days’ notice once they are told they will be removed and are able to make legal representations during that period. Most should have access to legal advice during that period. There is no statutory right to appeal. In a successful legal challenge, on 14 June 2022 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) blocked the transfer of an Iraqi man who would face “a real risk of irreversible harm” if he were transferred to Rwanda. 

Why have Rwanda signed up to the scheme?

According to Rwandan officials, they wish to help resolve the international refugee crisis and receive investment that will assist them with their national development plan for 2050.  The Home Secretary has said that the government will send an initial £120 million to Rwanda to set up the scheme. Yet it is likely the scheme will cost even more, and it will include per-person operational costs. Tom Pursglove, the Home Office’s Minister for Justice has estimated that the cost per individual will to process an asylum case in Rwanda will be around £12,000. 

What do we know about the implementation of the scheme so far? 

The first flight under this plan was scheduled for 14 June 2022 and was initially expected to carry more than thirty people. By the 14 June that number had been reduced to seven due to successful legal challenges. Due to legal challenges, with support from Detention Action, Care4Calais and the PCS Union, the removal orders were scrapped and the flight was cancelled. Had the flight taken off, the nine-hour flight to KIigali is estimated to have cost north of £200,000. 

Despite the cancellation of the flight, the scheme itself is still in place and Priti Patel said she was “highly confident” that the next plane would take off. A full hearing of the policy’s legality is due to take place at the end of July in the High Court. 

Written and researched by Emma Wainwright.