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UK interior minister visits Rwanda to expand deportation plan

By Philbert Girinema

KIGALI (Reuters) -British interior minister Suella Braverman visited Rwanda on Saturday to expand a deal under which the east African country will accept migrants who arrive in Britain without permission, if British courts confirm that the proposals are legal.

Britain's government wants to send thousands of migrants more than 4,000 miles away (6,400 km) to Rwanda as part of a 120 million pound ($146 million) deal agreed with Rwanda last year.

No deportations have taken place while campaigners challenge the legality of the policy in the courts. Many charities say the proposal is costly and impractical, and will criminalise thousands of genuine refugees who have very few routes to seek asylum in Britain without entering the country.

More than 45,000 people entered Britain last year by crossing the Channel in small boats from France, mostly young men from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, according to British government data.

Braverman met Rwanda's foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, on Saturday and told reporters in Kigali that she had agreed extra support for migrants who are sent to the country.

"Many countries around the world are grappling with unprecedented numbers of illegal migrants and I sincerely believe that this world-leading partnership ... is both humanitarian and compassionate and also fair and balanced," Braverman said at a news conference with Biruta.

Biruta said the proposals "offer better opportunities for migrants and Rwandans alike" and would help with the British government's goal of disrupting people-trafficking networks.

Braverman is expected to meet Rwanda's President Paul Kagame on Sunday.

In a statement on Saturday, Britain's interior ministry said Rwanda had now agreed to accept "all categories of people who pass through safe countries and make illegal and dangerous journeys to the UK".

"Anyone who comes to the UK illegally - who cannot be returned to their home country - will be in scope to be relocated to Rwanda," Britain's interior ministry said.

The partnership was announced in April 2022, but the first deportation flight was blocked by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.

London's High Court then ruled it lawful in December but opponents are seeking to appeal that verdict in April and it could yet go to Britain's Supreme Court later in the year.

"I'm not going to preempt the decision of the judiciary, but if we are successful, we will envisage delivering the substance of our agreement as quickly as possible," Braverman said.

Braverman has previously described her opponents as "naive do-gooders".

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that finding a solution is one of his top priorities for 2023. Britain spends more than 2 billion pounds a year to accommodate migrants and has tendered a $95 million contract to transport them to countries such as Rwanda instead.

($1 = 0.8225 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by David Milliken and Alistair Smout; Editing by Mark Porter, David Holmes, Peter Graff)