(LONDON) — The United Kingdom approved controversial legislation on Tuesday that allows the government to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, with deportation flights expected to start this summer.

The so-called Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill completed its passage through the U.K. Parliament in the early morning after almost eight hours of debate overnight, clearing the way for it to soon receive royal assent and become law. The legislation, which aims to deter migrants from entering the U.K. illegally via small boats with hopes of claiming asylum once they reach the shore, had been stalled in Parliament for two months as lawmakers in both houses repeatedly proposed and rejected amendments.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who described the bill as “landmark legislation,” has promised that the first flights deporting illegal migrants to Rwanda, where their asylum claims will be processed, would take off in 10 to 12 weeks.

“We introduced the Rwanda Bill to deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs who exploit them,” Sunak said in a statement Tuesday. “The passing of this legislation will allow us to do that and make it very clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay. I am clear that nothing will stand in our way of doing that and saving lives.”

Rwanda is “pleased” by the U.K. Parliament’s approval of the bill and “look[s] forward to welcoming those relocated to Kigali,” according to Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo.

“It doesn’t alter what we have always known to be true: we have worked hard over the last 30 years to make Rwanda a safe and secure country for Rwandans and non-Rwandans alike,” Makolo said in a statement Tuesday.

The idea was first proposed in 2022 by former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who signed a multi-million-dollar partnership with the Rwandan government introducing the idea to have illegal migrants with asylum applications “deemed inadmissible by the U.K.” flown to Rwanda instead. But the U.K. Supreme Court blocked the deportation flights last November, finding the plan “unlawful” because the government couldn’t guarantee the safety of those being transferred to Rwanda.

In response, the U.K. signed a new treaty with Rwanda that increased protections for migrants and then, last December, proposed the current legislation, which declares the East African nation to be “safe” for asylum seekers.

Top officials from the United Nations released a joint statement on Tuesday calling on the U.K. to reconsider its plan, which they warned will have a “harmful impact” on human rights and refugee protection.

“The new legislation marks a further step away from the U.K.’s long tradition of providing refuge to those in need, in breach of the Refugee Convention,” said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “Protecting refugees requires all countries – not just those neighboring crisis zones – to uphold their obligations. This arrangement seeks to shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent.”

“By shifting responsibility for refugees, reducing the U.K.’s courts’ ability to scrutinise removal decisions, restricting access to legal remedies in the UK and limiting the scope of domestic and international human rights protections for a specific group of people, this new legislation seriously hinders the rule of law in the U.K. and sets a perilous precedent globally,” added Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. “It is critical to the protection of the human rights and dignity of refugees and migrants seeking protection that all removals from the U.K. are carried out after assessing their specific individual circumstances in strict compliance with international human rights and refugee law.”

Just hours after the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill’s approval, French authorities announced Tuesday that five people, including a child, had died while trying to cross the English Channel from France to the U.K.

The U.K. government is prepared to face a “whole range of legal challenges” to the new policy that may arise, according to British Minister of State for Countering Illegal Migration Michael Tomlinson.

“We need to get the flights off the ground, and that’s when we will see the deterrent effect kick in,” Tomlinson told BBC News on Tuesday.

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