British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Friday that the number of migrants crossing illegally into the UK from Europe is down by a third.
“People may not know this, but this year because of all the things that we’ve done, the number of illegal migrants crossing to the UK is down by a third. Everyone told me that wasn’t possible, but because we worked really hard, we’re returning thousands of people to places like Albania, we’ve got the numbers down by a third already,” Sunak said, speaking from Worksop in Nottinghamshire,” said the Prime Minister.
He also said he was determined to revive the UK government’s blocked plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda without breaching international law.
Many legal experts said that’s wishful thinking, and critics urged the government to ditch a plan they say is costing millions and harming Britain’s international reputation.
On Wednesday, the U.K. Supreme Court quashed the government’s plan, saying Rwanda is not a safe country where migrants can be sent.
Despite the justices’ unanimous verdict, the British government doubled down on the policy, which it says will deter people from around the world making life-threatening journeys across the English Channel in small boats.
Sunak said he’s negotiating a treaty with the Rwandan government to close loopholes in the plan, including a block on Rwanda sending migrants home.
“We will make sure that domestic courts cannot block systemically our flights to Rwanda. I’ve been also very clear that I won’t let foreign courts stop us getting a fly off. That’s my plan. And I’m going to work night and day to make it happen,” said Sunak.
The government says once that risk has been removed, it will pass a law through Parliament declaring that Rwanda is a safe country.
It has been more than a year and a half since the U.K. struck a deal with Rwanda to send migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in boats to the East African country, where their asylum claims would be processed and, if successful, they would stay.
Britain says that will deter people from making the journey and break the business model of people-smuggling gangs.
Critics say it is both unethical and unworkable to send migrants to a country 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) away, with no chance of ever settling in the U.K.
Much of Europe and the U.S. are struggling with how best to cope with migrants seeking refuge from war, violence, oppression and a warming planet that has brought devastating drought and floods.
Though Britain receives fewer asylum applications than countries such as Italy, France or Germany, thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the English Channel.
More than 27,300 have done that so far this year.
Sunak has made “stop the boats” one of his key pledges ahead of a national election that is due next year.