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Grounded Rwanda deportation flight, June 2022
By Harry Farley & Paul Seddon
BBC News

Most of the asylum seekers initially earmarked for Rwanda cannot be immediately located for deportation, the Home Office has admitted.

Home Office documents published quietly reveal 5,700 asylum seekers have been identified in an initial cohort to be sent to the East African country.

But only “2,143 continue to report to the Home Office and can be located for detention”, the documents say.

A government source denied the remaining 3,557 were missing.

They faced looser reporting restrictions, the source said, insisting the Home Office was in contact with everyone who was in scope for removal to Rwanda.

While some asylum seekers stay in Home Office accommodation, such as hotels or detention facilities, many do not. There are different ways asylum seekers must report to the Home Office. Some have to do so in person while others can report digitally and face less strict requirements.

A government source admitted it was possible some could abscond before they were detained.

The policy document sets out details of the 5,700 people that Rwanda has “in principle” already agreed to accept.

Those identified in the initial cohort all arrived in the UK illegally between January 2022 and June 2023.

They had already received a “notice of intent” that their asylum claims were inadmissible and they were being considered for deportation to Rwanda before the Court of Appeal ruled the policy was unlawful on 29 June 2023.

It means no-one who arrived on a small boat since last summer will be removed in the first flights to Rwanda.

The updates, contained in an “equality impact assessment“, also raised the possibility that lobbying from MPs could delay an asylum seeker’s removal.

“It is a long-standing parliamentary convention that MPs’ representations suspend removal until a case has been considered and a response issued to the MP,” the document said.

It added that given the “novel nature” of the Rwanda scheme, individual cases could “attract significant attention from MPs, and responders may be overwhelmed by cases, causing a delay or removal to be cancelled pending a response”.

A Home Office spokesperson said caseworkers had been put in place to respond to MPs quickly.

A Home Office spokesperson added: “As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will get flights off the ground to Rwanda in the next 10 to 12 weeks.

“In preparation for flights taking off, we have identified the initial cohort to be removed to Rwanda and have hundreds of dedicated caseworkers ready to process any appeals.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further on operational activity.”

People are due to be detained within weeks ahead of the first flights.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised these will take off by July, after legislation enabling removals entered into force last week.

The scheme is a key part of his flagship pledge to “stop” small boats crossing the English Channel.

The government has never put a figure on the total number of asylum seekers who could be sent, insisting the scheme is uncapped.

Channel crossings continued on Monday after no migrant arrivals were detected on Sunday. More than 7,000 migrants have arrived in the UK this year to date, Home Office figures show.