Britain 'took back 50 migrants from Ireland', just months before Rishi Sunak said he was 'not interested' in returns

15 May 2024, 11:31 | Updated: 15 May 2024, 12:01

Migrants have been returned to the UK from Ireland
Migrants have been returned to the UK from Ireland. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The UK took back 50 migrants from Ireland just months before Rishi Sunak said he was "not interested" in accepting returned asylum seekers.

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Official figures released on Wednesday show that two separate groups of 25 migrants were arrested in October and February by Irish police while travelling from Belfast, in Northern Ireland, to Dublin in the Republic.

The groups, which included three children, were returned to the UK, either to Belfast or Holyhead, on the Welsh island of Anglesey. Two people were arrested by British police on suspicion of facilitating illegal entry to the UK.

The news comes amid concerns in Ireland that a big rise in the number of migrants claiming asylum in Ireland is being fuelled by the UK's Rwanda scheme, which passed into law in April.

Many more asylum seekers have gone to Ireland this year so far, compared to 2023 - prompting protests in Dublin.

Read more: Migrant smuggled himself direct from France to Dublin for fear of being sent to Rwanda if he went to UK

Read more: Rishi Sunak offers Ireland chance to join Rwanda scheme amid high tensions over migrants crossing NI border

James Cleverly rubbishes Labour's "comic" migration plan

Several migrants themselves have said in recent weeks that they went to Dublin to avoid being sent to the east African country.

But the UK government has said publicly it will not be taking back migrants who have crossed into Ireland via the open border with Northern Ireland.

Ministers have pointed out that France does not accept the return of migrants who have made the journey across the English Channel to the UK.

The figures for the October and February returns were included in reports by Garda (Irish police) commissioner Drew Harris to the country's policing authority, and reported in the Telegraph.

An early morning operation to remove tents which have been pitched by asylum seekers along a stretch of the Grand Canal, Dublin.
An early morning operation to remove tents which have been pitched by asylum seekers along a stretch of the Grand Canal, Dublin. Picture: Alamy

Under a reciprocal deal agreed in 2020, the UK has agreed to take back over 200 migrants from Ireland over the past four years, according to the Irish Times, although none of those were returned.

Ireland has consented to take seven migrants back under the same two-way deal, and one of those has been returned.

The UK has said this was an operational deal, and not legally binding.

But Ireland's High Court ruled in March this year that the country's ministry of justice had overstepped its authority in designating the UK a safe country for returns after Brexit.

Since the massive increase in migrant flows, the Irish government has begun drawing up a new law to allow returns to resume.

Taoiseach Simon Harris
Taoiseach Simon Harris. Picture: Alamy

The British government has suggested that Ireland could join the Rwanda scheme and share in its apparent deterrent effect - but the Irish taoiseach Simon Harris dismissed the idea as "satire".

Meanwhile the High Court in Northern Ireland ruled that the Rwanda scheme did not apply there, because it did not comply with the Windsor Framework border treaty agreed as part of Brexit negotiations.

Unionists have warned the ruling could make Northern Ireland a magnet for illegal immigration.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps says it's time for 'everyone to get behind' the Rwanda Bill

But some onlookers have said it is too soon to know the full impact of the Rwanda plan on migrant flows to the UK. No flights have taken off yet, although the first migrants due to be sent to Rwanda have been detained.

Meanwhile the Rwanda plan could be short lived, if, as expected, Labour take power at the next general election.

Sir Keir Starmer said his Labour government would scrap the Conservative's Rwanda immigration policy "straight away".

He said he wanted to establish a 'border security command' instead, to "tackle this problem at source".

Home Secretary James Cleverly said this was "comic".

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