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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Alamy Stock Photo
Deterrent strategy

Sunak says migrants crossing from Northern Ireland into Republic shows Rwanda plan is working

It comes after Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the UK’s asylum policy is driving migrants across the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

UK PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has claimed that migrants crossing the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic shows his government’s Rwanda plan is having the desired deterrent effect. 

He also said that he believes other countries will follow the UK’s example and make similar deals with third countries.

“The deterrent is … already having an impact because people are worried about coming here,” Sunak said, despite the plan not yet being implemented. 

It comes after Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the UK’s asylum policy is driving migrants in fear of being deported to Rwanda across the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

Sunak’s government plans to send asylum seekers coming to the UK on a one-way flight to the east African nation, with the aim of deterring others from crossing the English Channel on small boats.

The legislation ensuring the plan is legal, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act, cleared its passage through the UK Parliament this week and was signed into law on Thursday.

It has been roundly condemned by human rights organisations and other observers who say that Rwanda is not a safe country to be deported to and that oversight will be impossible as Rwanda does not have a free press.

In an interview with Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, which will air in full tomorrow, Sunak was challenged over whether the UK is simply exporting the problem to Ireland and other countries.

Sunak said: “My focus is on the United Kingdom and securing our borders.

But he said that Martin’s comment illustrates “a couple of things”.

“One, that illegal migration is a global challenge, which is why you’re seeing multiple countries talk about doing third country partnerships, looking at novel ways to solve this problem, and I believe will follow where the UK has led.

“But what it also shows, I think, is that the deterrent is, according to your comment, already having an impact because people are worried about coming here and that demonstrates exactly what I’m saying.

“If people come to our country illegally, but know that they won’t be able to stay, they’re much less likely to come, and that’s why the Rwanda scheme is so important.”

Yesterday, Downing Street rebuffed claims the Rwanda plan was already influencing movements into Ireland, saying it was too early to jump to conclusions on its impact.

Martin, who also serves as Minister for Foreign Affairs, told reporters in Dublin yesterday:“Clearly, we’ve had an increase in the numbers coming into Northern Ireland into the Republic.

“And it’s fairly obvious that a Rwanda policy, if you’re a person in a given situation in the UK and well, then you don’t want to go to Rwanda – not that anybody has gone yet, I hasten to add.

“So I think it’s a fair comment of mine. There are many other issues – it’s not in any way trying to blame anything or anything like that.”

Justice Minister Helen McEntee told a committee earlier this week that the number was now “higher than 80%” crossing from Northern Ireland.

But a No 10 spokeswoman told journalists in Westminster: “It is too early to jump to specific conclusions about the impact of the Act and treaty in terms of migrant behaviour.

“Of course, we will monitor this very closely and we already work very closely as you would expect with the Irish government, including on matters relating to asylum.

“But of course, the intention behind the Act is to have it serve as a deterrent and that is why we are working to get flights off the ground as swiftly as possible.”

Sunak this week acknowledged it could still take 10 to 12 weeks to get flights in the air, in a blow to his earlier target of seeing this take place in the “spring” of this year.

The idea of sending asylum seekers to third countries instead of hosting them and processing their claims in country has gained traction across Europe recently. 

The European People’s Party’s latest manifesto mentioned proposed a policy very similar to the UK government’s Rwanda one, in a move seen by analysts as an attempt to stave off advances among far-right parties in the upcoming EU Parliament elections this June.

The plan was endorsed at the time by then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

With reporting from Press Association

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