U.K. government shares video of first migrant detentions under controversial Rwanda plan, calls it a milestone

U.K. government shares video of first migrant detentions under controversial Rwanda plan, calls it a milestone

London — The British government released video clips Wednesday of what it said were the first detentions of migrants in the country without permission under a highly controversial new program that aims to deport them to Rwanda. The plan, implemented by the country’s ruling Conservative party, was approved by lawmakers last week after more than two years of political wrangling over its legality.

The video share online Wednesday by the Home Office, which oversees all law enforcement and immigration matters in the U.K., showed armed immigration officers taking handcuffed individuals from houses into waiting vans. All the individuals in the video, both the detainees and the officers, were heavily blurred to obscure their identities.

In a Wednesday statement, U.K. Home Secretary James Cleverly called the Rwanda policy “a pioneering response to the global challenge of illegal migration.”

The policy was passed into law last week by the country’s Conservative-controlled parliament despite previously being ruled unlawful by the U.K. Supreme Court. Under the plan, asylum seekers arriving on British shores without prior permission can be sent to Rwanda to have their applications for asylum processed, and they can be forbidden from ever returning to the U.K.

rising numbers of migrants and asylum seekers reaching the U.K. on small boats or by hanging onto trucks coming from France. It applies to anyone who arrives in Britain without prior permission, even if their aim is to claim asylum and they have legitimate grounds to do so.

No flight has departed from the U.K. to Rwanda carrying people detained under the program yet, and it was unclear when or where the individuals detained in the video might have their asylum claims processed, or if they had, or intended to file such claims.

In a statement share later on social media, the Home Office said a total of 44 people were detained in the operations Wednesday, including “foreign criminals with combined prison sentences of more than 61 years, for offences including gun and knife crime.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — whose Conservative party appears to be facing decimation in a general election this year after more than a decade in power — has vowed that the first planes will leave by the summer.

“Our dedicated enforcement teams are working at pace to swiftly detain those who have no right to be here so we can get flights off the ground,” Cleverly said in his statement. “This is a complex piece of work, but we remain absolutely committed to operationalising the policy, to stop the boats and break the business model of people smuggling gangs.”

The Home Office said in its statement accompanying the video on Wednesday that the detentions were “a key part of the plan to deliver flights to Rwanda in the next 9 to 11 weeks,” calling it “yet another major milestone in the government’s wider plan to stop small boat crossings.” 

Sunak’s government claims the law will act as a deterrent to anyone who might consider trying to enter the U.K. without documentation. The morning after the legislation was passed last week, five people were killed in a crush on an overcrowded migrant boat after it left a beach in France to cross the English Channel.

A protester holds a placard mocking the government's Rwanda
A protester holds a placard mocking the government’s Rwanda plan for asylum seekers during a demonstration in Parliament Square, London, March 13, 2024.

Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee charity have both condemned the policy, arguing that it breaches Britain’s international obligations under multiple treaties on human rights and the rights of asylum seekers.

“The government’s move to detain people is causing fear, distress and great anxiety amongst men, women and children who have fled war and persecution to reach safety in the U.K.,” Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, was quoted as saying Wednesday by CBS News’ partner network BBC News.

He said the government should focus on processing asylum claims “efficiently and fairly,” rather than what he called “headline-grabbing schemes that will waste time and resources.”

To date, the BBC says Britain’s government has paid Rwanda the equivalent of more than $300 million to fund the program, despite no flights having departed under it.

While the U.K. is spending an estimated $8 million per day currently to house the migrants who arrive without permission in Britain, the government’s own cost assessment last summer determined that each individual case handled under the Rwanda deportation program would cost taxpayers about $86,000 more than housing the person in Britain.

CBS News’ Haley Ott and Tucker Reals contributed to this report.


Source: cbsnews.com