Suella Braverman is making plans to deport migrants to Rwanda by the summer, while the government in Kigali said it was “ready to absorb the thousands that will come from the UK”.
A Home Office source said “we are certainly working towards getting the flights off before the summer”, adding that the home secretary acknowledged the schedule was dependent on pending legal battles.
In her first trip to the central African nation as home secretary, Ms Braverman on Saturday visited facilities being built to house people removed from Britain.
Speaking to reporters in the country’s capital, she said she would wait for a Court of Appeal hearing on the policy next month before deciding whether flights could depart by summer.
The government has expanded the agreement with Rwanda to incorporate all those illegally entering the UK as opposed to solely asylum seekers.
The addition to the deal is to be put in place to ensure illegal entrants would be detained and swiftly removed under the Illegal Migration Bill, regardless of the claim they bring – whether that be asylum, human rights, modern slavery or none.
No migrants have been relocated to the country so far after the deal was signed last April by Ms Braverman’s predecessor Priti Patel, and several people from countries including Iran, Iraq and Syria have launched challenges against plans to send them there.
After Saturday’s tour of potential housing facilities, Ms Braverman said: “I think that Rwanda is clearly ready.”
Migrants arriving from the UK would be housed in hostels and hotels in the short term, before moving onto long-term housing arrangements, with properties equipped with gardens, off-street parking and capacity for fibre-optic broadband.
Asked if the migration deal affected Britain’s ability to criticise the country on other issues, such as human rights, Ms Braverman said there was a “gross misperception about Rwanda in the UK“ and that it was a “forward-looking dynamic economy” and a safe country.
Rwanda government spokesperson Yolande Makolo told reporters she did not “consider living in Rwanda as punishment” – adding that the African nation signed up to the agreement for “the right reasons”.
She said: “We are going to be ready to absorb the thousands that will come from the UK along the life of this partnership. We’re determined to make this a success.”
The home secretary is due to meet President Paul Kagame to discuss the deal, after meeting her Rwandan counterpart Vincent Biruta on Saturday.
Legal challenges are expected against the government’s bill and practical questions are mounting over where people can be sent when the only deals struck have been with Albania and Rwanda.
Ms Braverman said the Home Office believes Rwanda has the capacity needed but “we are always in constructive dialogue with many nations around the world”.
Responding to criticism, she said: “Our scheme complies with international law, it complies with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and complies with the Refugee Convention.” But she repeated a threat to take Britain out of the ECHR if necessary.
The visit came as 209 people were confirmed to have crossed the Channel in small boats on Friday, after five days of no reported crossings.
Additional reporting by Press Association