UK's Rwanda migration bill delayed again by Lords in setback to Tories

UK's Rwanda migration bill delayed again by Lords in setback to Tories
The bill, which proposes sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, has faced repeated setbacks in parliament from across parties
4 min read
18 April, 2024
The House of Lords has insisted on amendments to the bill which has been a letterhead of the Conservative government since 2022 [GETTY]

The UK’s controversial migration bill which would see asylum seekers sent to Rwanda has failed to pass through parliament again after the UK’s upper house insisted on more changes over fears that Rwanda cannot be deemed a safe third country and that it could breach international law.

The House of Lords insisted on several amendments to the bill following a debate on Wednesday, which will see it go back to the House of Commons for a fifth time for amendments before it can become law.

The proposed legislation, known as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, has been denounced by human rights experts and charities, who have raised serious concerns about the suitability of Rwanda as a destination for people seeking asylum.

The bill has prompted fierce debate among parliamentarians and has been batted between the House of Commons and the House of Lords already this week when MPs voted to turn down a series of amendments suggested by the Lords on Monday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made the scheme a key element of the Conservative government and is keen to ensure the bill becomes law ahead of a general election expected later this year.

It will now be debated next week in the Commons for a fifth time and the government is blaming the delays on the opposition Labour party.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said that Labour had "no alternative deterrent" or plan to address illegal migration.

"Terrified that the Rwanda scheme will work, and desperate to delay or disrupt over a hundred votes about stopping the boats, Labour have acted again to block the passage of the Rwanda Bill," he said.

The proposal would mean that people who arrive in the UK by making crossings on boats via the English Channel would not be able to make asylum claims in the UK but would be deported to Rwanda, where authorities would consider claims.

If successful, people would be granted asylum in Rwanda, not in the UK.

But on Wednesday, peers said that the bill in its current format does not ensure the safety of foreign nationals who have worked for or supported the British government and insisted that an independent committee of experts should be set up to assess Rwanda's safety.

Charities and experts have highlighted the African nation’s poor human rights record, including its infringements on freedom of speech and its use of force against civilians critical of the government.

The current bill was introduced late last year after the Supreme Court ruled in November that the government's previous scheme to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful.

The court said there was a real risk that asylum claims would not be determined fairly in Rwanda and that people would be at risk of 'refoulement'—when individuals are returned to their countries of origin - which is prohibited by several international treaties to which the UK is a party.

The idea was first proposed by Boris Johnson's government in 2022 as a solution to the rising number of people, often from war-stricken countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving in the UK on small boats.


According to figures from the Home Office, more than 4,600 people arrived in the UK on small boats between January and March this year, marking the highest number for the same period of any year on record.

Charities and human rights experts have said that the UK has few legal schemes in place for those seeking to claim asylum, aside from certain allowances for Ukrainian or Afghan refugees, which are driving the increasing numbers.

One of the amendments proposed by the Lords would ensure that no individual who has supported British armed forces overseas or was employed or contracted to provide services to the government can be removed from Rwanda.

The tweak is aimed at Afghans who worked for the British army, often as translators,  and who were given assurances that they and their families had a right to move to the UK following the 2021 Taliban takeover. Despite these assurances, a number of eligible Afghans and their families remain trapped in the country, facing death threats from Taliban authorities.