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Sunak promises to start Rwanda flights in 10-12 weeks

british pm sunak hosts a press conference at downing street in london
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference at Downing Street

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged on Monday to start sending asylum seekers to Rwanda within 10 to 12 weeks, telling the upper house of parliament he will force the new legislation through despite its opposition.

Sunak said the government had booked commercial charter planes and trained staff to take migrants to Rwanda, part of a policy he hopes will boost his Conservative Party’s flagging fortunes before an election later this year.

“No ifs, no buts. These flights are going to Rwanda,” Sunak told a press conference.

Tens of thousands of migrants – many fleeing wars and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa – have reached Britain in recent years, mostly by crossing the English Channel in small boats on risky journeys organised by people-smuggling gangs.

Stopping the flow is a prime goal for the Conservative government, but critics say the plan to deport people to Rwanda is inhumane and that the East African country is not a safe place.

The move has been held up repeatedly by the House of Lords and it could face further legal challenges if it passes parliament. The legislation is due to return on Monday to the House of Commons – the lower house of parliament – where lawmakers are expected to remove changes proposed by the Lords.

Sunak, whose party trails Labour in the polls, said an airfield was on standby and slots were booked for flights. Five hundred staff had been trained and were ready to escort migrants “all the way to Rwanda“.

“We are ready. Plans are in place. And these flights will go come what may,” he said.

Under the policy formulated two years ago, any asylum seeker who arrives illegally in Britain will be sent to Rwanda in what the government says will deter Channel crossings and smash the people smugglers’ business model.

Sunak’s team hope the pre-election pledge will help turn around his electoral fortunes particularly among wavering Conservatives voters who want to see a reduction in immigration.

Polls suggest his Conservative Party will be badly beaten in this year’s election by Labour, which has said it will scrap the scheme if it wins power.

Even if Sunak is successful in stopping the House of Lords from blocking the legislation, he may still face legal challenges.

Charities and rights groups say they would try to stop individual deportations and the trade union which represents border force staff is promising to argue the new legislation was unlawful “within days” of the first asylum seekers being informed they will be sent to Rwanda.

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