Rwanda expects first 50 asylum seekers transferred from UK by end of May

FILE PHOTO: Union Jack flags fly in the wind in front of the Parliament at Westminster bridge, in London, Britain, January 29, 2022. REUTERS/May James

KIGALI (Reuters) -Rwanda expects the first group of 50 asylum seekers to be transferred from Britain by the end of May, a government spokesperson said on Thursday.

In April the British government announced plans to send people seeking asylum to the East African country, but earlier this month said it expected lawyers to lodge claims to prevent their removal.

The British government has started to notify those who are likely to be relocated, with the first flights expected to take place in the coming months, Britain's home office said in a statement.

Pitched as an attempt to disrupt the business model of people-smuggling gangs, the plan drew concerns about Rwanda's human rights record, which the British government itself noted last year.

"According to the information we have, the first batch of migrants will arrive by the end of the month, but... it is the British government that knows how many will come and when they will come," Rwanda's deputy government spokesman Alain Mukurarinda said.

"Once they have got their (asylum seeker) status, they will go and live with other Rwandans. They will be free. They will not be prisoners," said Mukurarinda.

Last year, more than 28,000 migrants and refugees made the crossing from mainland Europe to Britain on rickety boats. Britain has said the plan to send people to Rwanda would initially cost 120 million pounds ($158 million).

"The UK’s decision to go ahead with expulsions of asylum seekers to Rwanda is an affront to its international obligations and quite simply cruel," said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at rights watchdog Human Rights Watch.

On Thursday the Rwandan government took journalists on a tour of hostels that were being adapted to house the migrants.

Full bed and board will cost the UK government 72,000 Rwandan francs ($71) per person per day at Hope Guesthouse, said Ismail Bakina, the manager of the establishment.

($1 = 1,011.0000 Rwandan francs)

(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali, additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill in London; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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