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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jessica Elgot and Rajeev Syal

Rishi Sunak says people arriving in UK illegally will be deported ‘within days’

Lifeboat and dinghy full of people
A lifeboat comes to the aid of people trying to cross the Channel in a small boat in November 2021. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Rishi Sunak has said new laws will mean people arriving in the UK without valid documents will be deported “within days”, with asylum claims rejected and migrants returned.

The prime minister also said he was committed to the Rwanda deportation policy, despite legal challenges, replying “yes” when asked if it would ever go ahead.

In an interview to mark 100 days as prime minister, he said asylum claims would be heard in “days or weeks, not months or years”. The UK has a significant asylum backlog, with more than 140,000 people awaiting an initial decision.

The Home Office is trying to double its number of asylum case workers and treble the rate at which they finish cases. Suella Braverman, the home secretary, disclosed in November that each case worker was completing a case a week on average.

The government aims to have 2,500 caseworkers in place by August, compared with just under 600 in 2020.

Sunak said he intended to speed up the process of assessing people alongside introducing a law saying people who arrive in the UK “illegally” – without valid documents – will not be able to claim asylum.

“The system that we need, the system that I want to introduce, is one whereby if you come here illegally, you should be swiftly detained and then in a matter of days or weeks we will hear your claim, not months and years, and then we will safely remove you somewhere else,” he told TalkTV. “And if we do that, that’s how we’ll break the cycle.”

Sunak said people should judge him on his record on asylum, including a new deal with the French government for additional patrols to spot boats crossing the Channel, as well as negotiating a deal with Albania. He said Albanians made up “30% of all illegal migrants” and described this as “ridiculous”.

He said: “I’ll work with the Albanians to put in place a new deal which means for people coming from Albania illegally, we’ll be able to remove them safely back to Albania, and that is already happening.

“But the key thing we need to do is introduce new laws, and very soon we’ll be introducing new laws into parliament which deliver the system that I explained, the system which says if you come here illegally, you’re not really going to be able to stay here.”

Sunak said he was committed to reducing the time it took to remove people from the country. “We will hear your claim in a matter of days or weeks, not months or years, and we will have the ability in the vast majority of cases to send you to an alternative safe country, be that where you come from, if it’s safe, like Albania, or, indeed, Rwanda. That is the system.”

When asked “Is Rwanda ever going to happen?”, the prime minister replied: “Yes.”

This is not the first time that Sunak has given the Home Office an ambitious immigration target. In December he said he would clear the asylum backlog by the end of 2023. Downing Street later said the pledge related to 92,601 claims made before the Nationality and Borders Act came into force in June.

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