Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has said he would return money to the UK if no asylum seekers are sent to his country under his deal with the government.
The UK has paid £240m to Rwanda, with a further £50m to come. So far, no asylum seekers have been sent to the country.
Asked why he was taking the money, Mr Kagame said: “It’s only going to be used if those people will come. If they don’t come, we can return the money.”
It comes as Rishi Sunak faces a crucial Commons vote on his Rwanda bill.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said the country has “no obligation” to return any of the funds paid but if the UK requests a refund “we will consider this”.
She said in a statement that the funds paid to Rwanda were intended to support the country’s economic development as well as to “prepare to receive and care for the migrants when they arrive”.
“Under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid.
“However, if no migrants come to Rwanda under the scheme, and the UK government wishes to request a refund of the portion of the funding allocated to support the migrants, we will consider this request.
“To talk about figures at this point is premature, as we are still awaiting the conclusion of the UK legislative process and remain committed to making the partnership work.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims his plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda will be a deterrent to migrants seeking to travel across the Channel in small boats.
But Labour says it is an expensive “gimmick” that won’t work – and that they would scrap the policy if they win the general election.
Mr Sunak is also facing opposition from some of his own Tory MPs, who say the legislation is not tough enough and the government should be prepared to defy international law to get deportation flights off the ground.
MPs are due to vote on proposed changes to the legislation on Wednesday evening – and on whether the bill as a whole should progress to its next stage in the House of Lords.
The government appears to be confident of winning the vote, despite a major rebellion by right wing Tory MPs on Tuesday evening.
The BBC’s Economics Editor Faisal Islam grabbed a brief interview with Paul Kagame on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The president did not clarify how much of the money he could return to the UK, or when.
Asked about the current political and legal obstacles around the deal with his country, Mr Kagame said that it is “not Rwanda’s problem”. “Ask the UK, it is the UK’s problem, not Rwanda’s problem”, he added.
How first £120m of UK Rwanda funding was spent
Job creation: 19%
Source: The Home Office
Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves welcomed Mr Kagame’s offer to refund the money, and pledged to put it towards “processing asylum cases” and “cracking down on the criminal gangs that are at the heart of this.”
Speaking in Davos, she said: “That would be a much better use of the money and would have a much greater chance of success in controlling the small boat crossings that we absolutely need to do.”
‘Lost’ asylum seekers
Labour says the Rwanda scheme will eventually cost UK taxpayers £400m.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the government had “lost contact” more than 4,000 people it had lined up for removal to Rwanda.
It follows a Daily Telegraph story – citing Home Office documents – saying that only 700 of the original 5,000 people earmarked for deportation are in “regular contact” with officials.
“Spending £400m on a plan not to get anybody to Rwanda whilst losing 4,000 people is not a plan, it’s a farce,” said Sir Keir.
“Only this government can waste hundreds of millions of pounds on a removals policy that doesn’t remove anyone.”
Mr Sunak defended the government’s record on immigration, before adding: “It’s a bit rich to hear him in here pretending that he cares about how we actually stop the boats, when he’s been crystal clear and said that even if the plan is working to reduce the numbers, he would still scrap it.
“It’s because he has no values, no conviction and no plan, and it’s back to square one.”
The Home Office told BBC Verify the department’s documents were leaked to The Telegraph and are not publicly available.
It said the figures published are based on “out of date operational data” from last year. It did not say when or whether there are more up to date figures available.
The Home Office said that it has a “dedicated team who work with police and other partners, to help trace and locate absconders using all available technologies”.