Boris Johnson arrives in Rwanda amid storm over immigration policy

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Boris Johnson arrives in Rwanda amid storm over immigration policy
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Boris Johnson has touched down in Rwanda ahead of a summit of Commonwealth leaders which has been overshadowed by the UK’s controversial new immigration policy.

The Prime Minister tweeted on Thursday morning: “I’ve arrived in Rwanda for CHOGM to address global challenges, from hunger to climate change, and to turbocharge trade with some of the world’s most dynamic economies. With our shared values, history and language – the Commonwealth is a unique and vital association.”

The Prime Minister, who flew to the African country’s capital of Kigali for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting overnight, has faced criticism for the government’s plan to send asylum seekers coming to Britain to Rwanda.

Ahead of his flight on Wednesday evening he hit out at "condescending" opponents of the scheme, telling reporters his trip is an opportunity “for us all to understand for ourselves what that partnership has to offer”.

He added: “Let’s hope perhaps help others to shed some of their condescending attitudes to Rwanda and how that partnership might work.”

But Mr Johnson is not scheduled to visit the accommodation in Kigali for migrants who arrive by unauthorised means into the UK.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "You will know that the Prime Minister's time is always limited and to make time to do that he would therefore have to leave elements of the programme whereby he's working with a unique set of world leaders on quite crucial issues.”

"We think that the best use of his time for this short period he's in Rwanda is to dedicate himself to some of the issues that will be raised at the summit and to work with other world leaders on some of those issues we've talked about, not least Ukraine and global security."

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The first flight removing people to Rwanda was due to take off last week, but was grounded by successful legal challenges ahead of a full hearing on the scheme's legality in UK courts.

The policy is one element of a £120 million economic deal with Kigali, but has been widely criticised in part because of concerns about Rwanda's human rights record.

Mr Johnson noted that he would be arriving there before any asylum seekers despite the agreement being signed two months ago.

"I'm conscious that I'm arriving before anybody who has travelled illegally across the Channel, I cannot conceal that fact from you - there it is - but it is still the case that no UK court and no international court has ruled our plan unlawful," he said.

But Mr Johnson said he will "no doubt" discuss the plans with Rwandan president Paul Kagame on Thursday.

Mr Kagame has been lauded for his role ending the 1994 genocide that saw ethnic Hutu extremists slaughter about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during 100 days of the civil war.

But his regime has since been accused of political repression, alleged assassinations and the imprisonment of critics.

Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrants rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said: "With their cruel and unlawful refugee scheme, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are effectively supporting the continued repression of people in Rwanda under President Kagame's regime.

"No country should be casting off its asylum responsibilities onto another, still less to a country such as Rwanda with a troubling human rights record alongside existing, large-scale asylum responsibilities of its own.

"The UK should be using its influence and the opportunity of the Commonwealth leaders' meetings to encourage meaningful human rights progress in Rwanda, not seeking to excuse and potentially add to Rwanda's disturbing human rights record."

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Mr Johnson's spokesman said he is expected to "raise human rights issues as he has done in the past".

"We want Rwanda to uphold and champion the Commonwealth values, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. And we want due process for all those in detention and fair and transparent application of the rule of law," he added.

The Prime Minister's wife, Carrie Johnson, will join him at the summit and is expected to take part in a programme of events for partners.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will also be there, as will Alok Sharma, the president of the Cop26 climate summit.

The Prime Minister also wants to use the meeting of the 54 nations, which are mostly former British colonies, to tackle the food and energy insecurity caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"Commonwealth countries find themselves on the front line of many of these issues from climate change to rising food prices," his spokesman said.

Green economic growth, boosting girls' education and working with the Commonwealth to increase trade and job creation for UK businesses are also among No 10's priorities.

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