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UK sends 1st voluntary asylum seeker to Rwanda

The UK has sent its first asylum seeker to Rwanda under a voluntary scheme, The Sun Newspaper reported on Tuesday, saying the unnamed migrant was flown out of the country on Monday, reports Reuters.

The voluntary scheme is separate from a forced deportation programme that the UK is about to embark on in the next few months, seeking to deter asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel in small boats to live in the UK.

Under the voluntary scheme, the government has said it would pay asylum seekers up to £3,000 each to move to Rwanda to help clear the backlog of refugees who have arrived in the country in recent years.

This new agreement is part of an existing government policy, where asylum seekers are offered financial assistance to leave the UK for their home country, but under this plan, people will get the money if they agree to live in Rwanda.

The UK Home Office, or interior ministry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tens of thousands of people have arrived in the UK in small boats since 2018, with many fleeing war or famine and travelling through Europe to the UK.

In response, the government has spent two years trying to overcome legal and political opposition to the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, some 6,400km away, which it hopes will act as a deterrent.

Parliament finally passed the divisive legislation last week and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he expected the first flights to take off in 10 to 12 weeks.

One organisation that works with asylum seekers said on X that they were protesting outside an immigration processing centre in south London to prevent a forced removal from the building. Media reports have said authorities will start collecting people soon for the first deportation flights to Rwanda.

A British government document published on Monday showed that the first asylum seekers to be deported from the UK to Rwanda would come from a group of 5,700 people that Kigali has agreed in principle to take.

But the document suggested the government would only be able to easily detain just over 2,000 of these.

Under the forced deportation scheme, anyone who has arrived illegally after Jan 1, 2022, is eligible to be deported to Rwanda. More than 50,000 people have arrived since that date, official figures show.