Rwandan state airline rejected flying asylum seekers for Rishi Sunak over brand damage fears

'Can barely keep up with the revelations showing how cruel & wrong Sunak’s Rwanda policy is in both principle & practice'

Suella Braverman Rwanda scheme

Rwanda’s state-owned airline turned down an offer by Rishi Sunak to transport asylum seekers to Kigali due to reputational risk, in a further embarrassing revelation on the Rwanda scheme

After being approached by the UK government late last year to run removal flights from Britain to Rwanda, RwandAir rejected the offer due to worries about brand damage, the Financial Times reported. 

In a move referred to as “grim irony” by Green MP Caroline Lucas, two people briefed on the situation said the Rwandan airline did not want to be involved in the scheme over branding fears, despite expanding its UK operations over the past year with daily commercial flights from London Heathrow airport to Kigali commencing from the end of this month. 

A Home Office insider said there was “irony” in the decision from the state-owned air company distancing itself from a plan that Rwanda’s government has previously said it was “proud” to be a part of. 

Green MP Caroline Lucas responded on X: “Such grim irony.

“Now we hear Rwandan state airline refuses to fly our outsourced asylum seekers to Kigali due to reputational damage of doing so. Can barely keep up with the revelations showing how cruel & wrong Sunak’s Rwanda policy is in both principle & practice.”

It comes after further embarrassing news for the Government this week as it was reported that Rwanda homes ear-marked for asylum seekers under the Rwanda plan were being sold off to locals. Suella Braverman responded that she was “disappointed” by the decision. 

The Prime Minister has viewed the Rwanda Bill as key to stopping small boat crossings however the plan was hit with delays after the Supreme Court ruled last year that it could lead to human rights breaches.

The first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda was abandoned an hour and a half before the flight was due to take off after it was grounded by a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. 

NGO Freedom from Torture has since rallied hundreds of thousands of campaigners to put pressure on airlines not to take part in what it has called an “inhumane cash for humans schemes”, with a private flights firm pulling out in 2022 as a result of the pressure group’s actions. 

Rishi Sunak met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame earlier this week, announcing in a joint statement following the meeting that they “looked forward to flights departing to Rwanda in the spring”.

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

(Image credit: UK Home Office)

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