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British lawyers could be sent to Rwandan courts as part of asylum plans


British lawyers could be stationed in courts in Rwanda as part of a treaty to allow the UK government to send asylum seekers to the country.

It comes after the Supreme Court ruled the plans unlawful amid concerns about the Rwandan justice system.

Downing Street said in response it would publish a treaty with Kigali to address the court’s concerns.

The BBC understands that Home Secretary James Cleverly could fly to Rwanda this week to finalise an agreement.

An updated deal, which could be announced as soon as Tuesday, would then be followed by emergency legislation aiming to prevent it being blocked again in the courts.

Ministers are racing to revive the policy before the spring, when they want the first flights to Rwanda to take off.

The policy, first announced in April 2022, would see some asylum seekers sent to Rwanda to claim asylum there.

Those not granted refugee status to stay in Rwanda could apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in another “safe third country”.

The Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, rejected the policy on the grounds that it could not be guaranteed the Rwandan courts would honour a principle of international law known as non-refoulment.

The principle forbids a country that receives asylum seekers from returning them to their country of origin if doing so would put them at risk of harm.

Following the decision, the government said it would seek a formal treaty with Rwanda, a move it believed would provide stronger legal guarantees than its current bilateral agreement.

A new deal is now close, and could see British lawyers stationed in Rwandan courts as part of efforts to address the Supreme Court’s concerns, the BBC has been told.

The Sunday Times reported that the treaty would also give Rwanda an extra £15m to pay for additional staff to improve and expand its asylum processing system.

The UK has already paid the Rwanda government £140m for the scheme. The first flight was scheduled to go in June 2022 but was cancelled because of legal challenges.

The Rwanda policy was proposed following a steady rise in recent years in the number of people arriving in the UK illegally via Channel crossings in small boats.

As of 2 December, 28,972 people had made the journey in 2023. Last year, 45,755 people made the crossing, the highest number since figures began to be collected in 2018.

Legal migration clampdown

Meanwhile, the government could also announce new restrictions on legal migration as soon as Monday, after figures published last week showed net migration hit a record high in 2022.

Ministers have been under pressure to act from backbenchers after official statistics showed net migration was 745,000 last year – far higher than originally thought.

There have been reports ministers are looking at scrapping the list of occupations where foreign workers can be hired below the standard salary thresholds.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has also recently said there are “strong arguments” for introducing a cap on migration, and restricting the number of dependents who can accompany migrants to the UK.

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