BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) - Britain's immigration minister said Tuesday that it's unlikely any migrants will be sent to Rwanda this year under a contentious government plan, but vowed to press on with the policy and expand it to more countries.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that "unfortunately," a court challenge to the Rwanda plan would have to run its course.
Asked if the deportations would start this year, she said: "You've got to ask the courts about that … I think it's going to take long."
Under a deal signed in April, Britain plans to send some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. Those granted asylum would stay in the African country rather than returning to the U.K.
Britain says the policy will deter people-trafficking gangs who ferry migrants across the English Channel. Human rights groups say it is unworkable and inhumane to send people thousands of miles away to a country they don't want to live in.
Britain has already paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($145 million) but no one has been sent there as part of the deal. The U.K. was forced to cancel the first deportation flight at the last minute in June after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the plan carried "a real risk of irreversible harm."
Several asylum-seekers, aid groups and a border officials' union are taking legal action against the government, with a hearing due later this month.
Braverman, who was appointed last month by new Prime Minister Liz Truss, told an audience at the Conservative Party's annual conference that she was seeking to expand the policy.
"We're looking actively at negotiating with countries who will take our asylum seekers," she said.
Thousands of people a year try to cross one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in dinghies and other fragile craft in hope of a new life in the U.K. More than 35,500 people have made the crossing so far this year, up from 28,000 in 2021. Dozens have died in the attempt in recent years.
The crossings, and how to stop them, are a source of friction between the U.K. and France. Braverman said the U.K. was committed to working with France to stop the smuggling gangs.
She said French authorities were stopping between 40% and 50% of boats trying to leave.
"That's not good enough but it's better than nothing," she said.
Braverman will set out more asylum plans in a speech later Tuesday. The Times of London reported that she will announce a plan to ban migrants who have crossed the Channel from claiming asylum in Britain.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of the group Refugee Action, said such a move would be "a blatant breach of the international refugee laws that the U.K. proudly helped create in the first place."
Clare Mosley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said it was "barbaric, untruthful and unnecessary."
"If this government truly wanted to stop small boat crossings it would offer safe passage to those who have a viable claim for asylum," she said.
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