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‘Months’ before Rwanda flights begin as Channel crossings hit 7,000 for 2022


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Flights sending asylum seekers to Rwanda may not take place for months, Downing Street has said.

Number 10 was unable to say when the first flights to the east African nation would take off, in the face of criticism and legal action against the plans.

Children were brought ashore in Dover on Tuesday. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
Children were brought ashore in Dover on Tuesday. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA

It comes as analysis of government figures by the PA news agency shows 7,389 people have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats since the start of 2022.

The figure is three times the number who arrived in the same period last year and seven times higher than the first four months of 2020.

Crossings continued today with young children among those being brought ashore.

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Priti Patel signed what she described as a “world-first” agreement with Rwanda.

It will see the country receive asylum seekers deemed by the UK to have arrived “illegally” and therefore inadmissible under new immigration rules. But the deal is already subject to legal challenges.

The Royal Navy dealing with asylum seekers after Boris Johnson handed over control of the asylum crisis to the navy Picture: UKNIP
The Royal Navy dealing with asylum seekers after Boris Johnson handed over control of the asylum crisis to the navy Picture: UKNIP

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the flights would take place at the “earliest opportunity” and the plan was a “fully legally secure approach that has been tested and thought through”.

They added: "We have received pre-action correspondence from a number of legal firms, I can’t get into that more… but we still maintain our hope to have the first flights take place in a matter of months."

Refugee charities claim the Rwanda policy has done little to deter people from making the journey to the UK, with 2,121 people arriving between April 14 – when the government announced and signed the Rwanda deal – and May 3.

Exactly 696 arrived between Sunday and today (Tuesday) after an 11-day stretch between April 20 and April 30 without any taking place amid bad weather conditions.

The figures were 254 on Sunday, 293 yesterday and 149 today.

The statistics are now provided daily by the Ministry of Defence.

When asked if Mr Johnson was disappointed the plan was yet to curb crossing numbers, the spokesman said: “It’s too early to judge what the situation will be long-term on this policy.”

The total for this year so far is more than three times the number recorded for the same period in 2021 (2,390) and more than seven times the amount recorded at this point in 2020 (1,006).

Overall, 28,526 people made the crossing in 2021, compared with 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019 and 299 in 2018, official Home Office figures show.

Despite the increasing numbers, the UK’s small boat arrivals are a fraction of the number of people arriving in Europe.

Data from the UN’s refugee agency shows at least 120,441 people arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea in 2021.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “Ministers have made the entirely reckless political calculation that they would rather be taken to court over their scandalous approach to refugees than put in place policies and practices that actually assist people fleeing conflict and persecution and diminish their vulnerability to exploitation and smugglers.”

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