Austria to work with UK on Rwanda-style plan for asylum seekers

<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Austria is seeking to adopt a Rwanda-style deal to deport asylum seekers to a third country, having agreed a deal to work with the UK on migration.

Suella Braverman signed a “migration and security agreement” with her Austrian counterpart, Gerhard Karner, in which the two countries agreed to work more closely together.

It is the first EU country to sign such a deal with the UK, whose £140m Rwanda deportation scheme is on hold pending the outcome of a supreme court judgment on its legality.

Austria’s offshoring scheme would differ from the UK’s in that people deported to a third country would be allowed to return to Austria if their asylum applications were successful. Those rejected would be returned to their home countries.

Under the UK’s proposed Rwanda scheme, people would be deported on a one-way ticket to the central African country to claim asylum, unless they can show that it would expose them to a risk of “serious and irreversible harm”.

Rishi Sunak and the home secretary are pushing European partners to overhaul international asylum agreements, including the refugee convention and European convention on human rights (ECHR) in the face of a worldwide migration crisis.

The supreme court is expected to rule on the legality of the UK’s Rwanda policy in mid-December. If successful, the Home Office hopes to have the first deportation flights in the air in February.

If it is ruled unlawful on the basis that there is a risk of asylum seekers being returned to their home country in breach of their human rights, Sunak will come under intense pressure from many Tory MPs, including at least eight members of his cabinet, to quit the ECHR.

Austria has also been pushing the EU to adopt a Rwanda-style scheme across Europe as part of changes to deal with the rise in arrivals from across the Mediterranean and its eastern borders.

Karner, Austria’s interior minister, said: “The UK has a lot of experience when it comes to processing asylum applications outside of Europe in the future. That was an important theme in my meeting with the home secretary in Vienna because Austria can benefit from this experience.

“We will continue to make a consistent effort for the EU Commission to advance and enable such procedures outside of Europe.”

Braverman said: “The global migration crisis is the challenge of our age, with the UK and the European continent seeing huge movements of people travelling illegally across our borders. This is placing an unprecedented burden on our communities and public services.

“Austria is a close ally in tackling illegal migration, and we have already begun sharing knowledge of our actions and strategies such as third country removals. This joint statement is a commitment to work more closely together to achieve our aims, and enhance our cooperation on a wide range of security challenges.”

Denmark is the only other country that has previously drawn up plans to deport asylum seekers to third countries but its proposals have been on hold.