The home secretary has been given a tour of potential migrant housing in Rwanda as the UK government’s deal to send asylum seekers to the country remains mired in legal challenges.
Suella Braverman set out to reaffirm her commitment to the Rwanda deportation policy as she embarked on the first full day of her trip on Saturday.
It is 11 months since the UK agreed the deal, which would see people who claimed asylum in Britain deported to the central African nation to have their application processed, and if successful be settled there.
No one has made the journey yet, after a flight was stopped at the eleventh hour in June last year following an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
In a statement released on Friday, Ms Braverman said the "UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership is a ground-breaking approach that will act as a powerful deterrent against dangerous and illegal journeys such as small boat crossing".
The plan was signed in April last year.
One refugee living in Rwanda, Fesseha Teame, told reporters on Saturday that he had "never felt I have been considered as a foreigner", but said he did not see the African nation having the capacity to hold "many thousands" of migrants.
The 48-year-old, with a wife and four children, spoke to the media after the home secretary claimed: "Rwanda has the capacity to resettle many thousands of people, and can quickly stand up accommodation once flights begin."
Ms Braverman also said the suggestion that Rwanda could only take 200 people is a "completely false narrative peddled by critics who want to scrap the deal".
The 200 figure quoted was used by Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo when speaking to British journalists last year.
She clarified she was talking about the temporary accommodation available at the time, saying her government had the ability to "scale up very quickly" the number of people who could be admitted.
Labour has used the figure to attack the government’s claims that thousands of people could be sent to Rwanda.
Braverman visits potential migrant housing
Earlier on Saturday, Ms Braverman was given a tour of housing on the Riverside Estate, which may provide long-term homes to migrants after the land was purchased by the Rwandan government.
The housing, with the cheapest costing around £14,000, is due to be offered to both Rwandans and asylum seekers with around 25% of the off-plan structures having already been privately bought.
Looking inside one of the homes, Ms Braverman said: "These houses are really beautiful, great quality, really welcoming and I really like your interior designer.
"I need some advice for myself," Ms Braverman added.
Throughout 2022, some 45,728 people crossed to the UK via the Channel – up 60% on the previous year.
Ms Braverman said she was visiting Rwanda this weekend to "reinforce the government’s commitment to the partnership as part of our plan to stop the boats and discuss plans to operationalise our agreement shortly".
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Her visit comes as the government looks to ban people who arrive in the UK via non-standard routes from claiming asylum.
Ms Braverman said earlier this week that they would be sent to countries like Rwanda.
As part of her itinerary this weekend, she will meet President Paul Kagame and foreign minister Vincent Biruta – who signed the agreement with Ms Braverman’s predecessor Priti Patel.
She said: "While in Rwanda, I will be visiting some of the initiatives supported by the partnership, from long-term accommodation sites to vocational training and education centres."
The UK has already paid £120m to Rwanda as part of the deal, with the costs of processing and integrating people set to be provided once they depart.
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"Within three to six months, the Rwandan government will ensure that migrants are housed and integrated into local communities," Ms Braverman said.
"I am looking forward to seeing some of the new, modern housing developments being built in Kigali, which will be used to house some of those resettled in Rwanda.
"Rwanda is a safe, welcoming and thriving country and ground-breaking partnerships like this show how we can tackle illegal migration, support genuine refugees and break the criminal people smuggling gangs’ business model."
The plan would mean those sent to the country can apply for refugee status there and, if successful, would be given the right to remain in Rwanda, though not to return to the UK.
If unsuccessful, they could still be granted an immigration status or be removed to their country of origin.
Refugee charities called the policy "cruel and nasty" and said it would do nothing to deter people from travelling across the Channel on small boats.
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