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First illegal migrants’ flight to take off for Rwanda in 10-12 weeks: UK PM Sunak

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LONDON, April 22: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday announced that the first flight with illegal migrants will take off for Rwanda in 10 to 12 weeks “come what may” and claimed that all the preparation has been made for the process once the long-delayed legislation passes through Parliament.

Stressing that he would not be giving out “sensitive operational detail” during a Downing Street briefing, the British Indian leader revealed that chartered commercial flights have been booked, an airfield has been identified and hundreds of escort officials trained to fly out the first set of migrants to Kigali while their asylum claims are processed.

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The press conference came as the government said Parliament will be sitting overnight on Monday for as long as it takes for the controversial Safety of Rwanda Bill to pass through all its stages to become law. The bill, which seeks to prevent legal challenges by declaring Rwanda a safe country in law, has faced hurdles due to the House of Lords demanding amendments – something Sunak blamed on the Opposition Labour Party.

“No ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda,” Sunak told reporters.

“The first flight will leave in 10 to 12 weeks. Of course, that is later than we wanted but we have always been clear that processing will take time and if Labour peers had not spent weeks holding up the Bill in the House of Lords to try to block these flights altogether we would have begun this process weeks ago,” he said.

“I can confirm that we have put an airfield on standby, booked commercial charter planes for specific slots and we have 500 highly trained individuals ready to escort illegal migrants all the way to Rwanda with 300 more trained in the coming weeks. We are ready. Plans are in place. And these flights will go come what may. No foreign court will stop us from getting flights off,” Sunak added.

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After the first flight takes off, Sunak said he expects a “steady rhythm” of such journeys over the course of the following months to meet his pledge for the policy to act as a deterrent and “stop the boats” of illegal migrants landing on the country’s  shores.

“The priority is being able to deliver a regular rhythm, a drum beat of multiple flights a month over the summer and beyond because that is how you build a systematic deterrent and that is how you will stop the boats,” said Sunak.

Asked if the UK would consider leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if the European court attempts to block such flights, Sunak did not rule out the possibility: “Now is the time for the flights to go and I am not going to let a foreign court, given all of that, block us from getting flights up and this deterrent up and running.”

The press conference followed his meeting with the government’s Illegal Migration Operations Committee, which is to operationalise the government’s flagship policy of cracking down on illegal migration ahead of a general election expected in the second half of the year. (PTI)

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