• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Rwandan airline ‘rejects’ UK plan to transport asylum seekers, says it will damage brand

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Rwanda’s state-owned airline turned down a UK government proposal to transport asylum seekers due to “potential damage to their brand,”  according to reports.

It’s the latest blow to Rishi Sunak’s plan to fly the first group asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda this spring.

“RwandAir said ‘no’ because of the potential damage to their brand,” a Home Office insider told the Financial Times.

RwandAir was approached by the UK government late last year about running removal flights from Britain to Rwanda, two sources reportedly told the newspaper.

But the Home Office has insisted that securing planes to carry asylum seekers would not be a problem when the time came to put the Rwanda plan into action.

A spokesperson said: “We have robust operational plans in place to get flights off the ground to Rwanda in spring.”

It comes as British charity Freedom from Torture launch a campaign pressuring carrier AirTanker to rule themselves out as an option for the transportation of asylum seekers to the African nation.

The charity says AirTanker is in talks to be part of the scheme, despite allegedly ruling this out in June 2022.

RwandaAir and AirTanker have been approached by the Standard for comment.

The Prime Minister said he was confident the Government would be able to get the Rwanda scheme “up and running” despite reports of problems with securing planes and the sell-off of accommodation earmarked for asylum seekers.

Properties in Kigali earmarked for the UK’s stalled deportation scheme have instead reportedly been sold to local buyers and there are still questions about which operator will fly the asylum seekers there.

Mr Sunak, who met Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame in Downing Street on Tuesday, said the Kigali government was “absolutely committed to delivering on our partnership and I’m confident they’ve got all the preparations in place to do so”.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will be back in the Commons on April 15 as the Government seeks to overturn changes made in the Lords.

The Government could have tried to speed the legislation through before Parliament’s Easter recess but officials have insisted the delay will not impact on the ability to meet Mr Sunak’s spring goal for the first flights.

The Prime Minister told reporters on Wednesday: “I’m committed to stopping the boats, we need to have a deterrent so that if people come here illegally, they can’t stay, they’ll be removed.

“That’s why Rwanda is so important. That’s why I’m determined to see it through.

“First of all, we need to get it through parliament where the Labour Party has been blocking it for a long time.

“Once it’s up and running, I’m confident we’ll be able to operationalise the scheme, get people on flights, because that’s how we’ll set up a deterrent and ultimately end the unfairness of people jumping the queue, coming here illegally putting pressure on local services, and risking their own lives.

“None of that’s right. None of it’s fair. None of it’s compassionate either, to do nothing, and our plan is the right one.”

He added: “I’m confident that once the Bill is passed, we will be able to get the scheme up and running.”

Some 70% of the 163 affordable homes on the Bwiza Riverside Estate in Kigali have now been purchased, meaning there is only space for a few dozen asylum seekers, the Times reported.

I won’t let a foreign court block our ability to put people on planes and send them to Rwanda. We are a reasonable people trying to do a reasonable thing

Rishi Sunak

Mr Sunak did not rule out making leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been one of the legal obstacles the Rwanda plan has faced, part of the Tory manifesto for the general election.

He told LBC Radio: “I’m not going to get into the manifesto. But I can be very clear – and I have been repeatedly – I am determined to see this policy through, because I think it’s really important for the country, for the security of our borders, for fairness.”

He added: “I won’t let a foreign court block our ability to put people on planes and send them to Rwanda.

“We are a reasonable people trying to do a reasonable thing.”

The new Bill is aimed at making the Rwanda scheme legally watertight after the UK Supreme Court – rather than the European Court of Human Rights – ruled against it.