LONDON — Seeing the number of asylum seekers crossing the dangerous English Channel on small rubber rafts soar, a succession of British prime ministers have vowed to “stop the boats.”

To deter the arrivals, Britain wants to detain the refugees on the beach and quickly send them to Rwanda — a move intended to break the “business model” of the smuggling gangs. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed Monday that the first flights to Rwanda will be airborne in “1o to 12 weeks.”

He said his government has an airfield on standby, as well as commercial charter flights ready to go. “No ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda,” Sunak said.

But for the flights to depart, Sunak’s government must still pass its controversial Rwanda bill through the Parliament.

Sunak will face skeptical voters sometime this year. His Conservative Party, after 14 years in power, has plummeted in the polls and the prime minister has made “stopping the boats” one of his top campaign promises. Earlier, he told Britons the first flights would take off in the spring. Now it will be July at the earliest.

Sunak said the Home Office, which would carry out the mission, has “200 trained dedicated case workers ready and waiting,” with extra courtrooms and judges, ready to process asylum seekers and get them onto airplanes.

Britain first proposed to fly migrants to Rwanda when Boris Johnson was prime minister, calling it a new model to discourage illegal migration that would be adopted by other countries.

Johnson’s first flight was blocked at the last minute in 2022 by the European Court of Human Rights.

Later, Britain’s highest court blocked the flights, ruling that Rwanda was not a safe country for migrants, who were at risk of being sent back to their countries of origin.

So Sunak’s government wrote a new law essentially declaring that Rwanda was safe and that international protections would be upheld.

To the prime minister’s great frustration — on display at his news conference Monday at 10 Downing Street — the House of Lords has delayed passage of the bill by adding amendments seeking greater guarantees.

Sunak charged that peers in the House of Lords, especially those in the opposition Labour Party, “have used every trick in the book” to attempt to stop or slow the bill from passing.

The legislation is likely to “ping-pong” back and forth, from the House of Lords to the House of Commons, on Monday — with possible passage late in the evening.

Sunak said come July there will be a “regular rhythm” of flights throughout the summer, but he declined to tell reporters how many flights were planned and for how many migrants.

Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party in Parliament, said that “no amount of sound bites or spin can change the fact that the Conservatives’ Rwanda scheme is a colossal failure.”

Advocates for the asylum seekers will almost certainly seek to block the flights again with another appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but Sunak declared, “no foreign court will stop us from getting flights off,” setting up a potential legal brawl.

Britain was one of the original signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention and a founder of the European Court of Human Rights, which is independent from the European Union.

Small-boat arrivals were down by a third last year but up this year — with 6,265 so far — and on track to match the peak in 2022.



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