THE Home Office has refused to rule out sending children 4000 miles to East Africa under a new deal struck with Rwanda.

Rwanda and the UK agreed a partnership deal on Thursday which will see Britain trade millions in order to develop the country’s economy in exchange for taking illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who arrive in Britain.

Children may be sent to Rwanda in the coming weeks and months

Refugees, including children, arrive in Dover today/PA 

Boris Johnson said he hopes the new plans will end small boats making the dangerous journey across the English Channel and envisages tens of thousands of migrants to be sent abroad in the coming years.

Children may be sent to Rwanda in the coming weeks and months

Only those who have entered the UK illegally – such as those crossing the Channel – will be considered for being sent to Rwanda, including those who have done so to claim asylum.

But while the pilot scheme is “envisaged” to only include adult men and women for the time being, children could be included in future.

The Home Office has said the Rwanda partnership was “evolving and will be continually reviewed.”

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A spokeswoman added: “We will not comment further on the exact criteria as this could encourage people-smuggling gangs to target the most vulnerable people.”

Unaccompanied children are not subject to the same rules as adults and will not be sent to Rwanda.

Once in Rwanda, asylum seekers will be housed in hotels while their claims are assessed which, it is understood, takes around three months.

Children may be sent to Rwanda in the coming weeks and months

Human rights and refugee activists have criticised the plans they say are against international law and criminalise asylum seekers.

Selina Hales, director of Refuweegee, told The National: “I have seen first-hand how difficult it is for children, accompanied and unaccompanied, to integrate in what is considered a safe and developed situation.

“We’ve seen children refuse to speak for years after arriving because of the trauma that they’ve experienced.

“To then be moved somewhere else … it’s unimaginable”.

Sabir Zazai (below), the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council said the policy was “state-sanctioned violence in action”.

He added: “The prospect of a child being assessed as an adult in this scheme’s trial stage, and then being sent to Rwanda, is unacceptable.”

Children may be sent to Rwanda in the coming weeks and months

He described the Government's plans to hold people in detention before they are sent to Rwanda as "deeply concerning".

"Seeking asylum is not a crime. The act of seeking protection should not result in a person being held in a prison-like environment.

“Just last week we heard reports on how damaging institutional accommodation is for a person’s health and wellbeing.

"That reports like this are not enough to give the government pause here leads us to conclude that this is a government with scant regard for human life.”

Angus Robertson, the Constitution Secretary, called the policy "outrageous".

He said: "The UK Government must explain how it will ensure the welfare of extremely vulnerable people in any off-shoring arrangement, when it appears to be washing their hands of them."

Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson said: “The whole policy is absolutely shameful, but to include even children within its scope means the Tories are stopping to new lows. 

“Offshoring does untold damage to people, including children. This heartless policy must be stopped before it gets off the ground.”

Maggie Chapman, the Scottish Greens’ human rights spokesperson, said: “Time and again, Downing Street has fanned the flames of racism and shown a total disregard for the rights and lives of people fleeing conflict zones and awful circumstances.”

No hotels have yet been secured to house arrivals in Rwanda but the Home Office confirmed the initial alerts to those being considered for removal will be coming to people in the coming weeks.

It is expected the first flights – chartered on taxpayer’s money – will take off in the coming months.

Patel made a visit to the Hope House in the Rwandan capital Kigali which could be used to house asylum seekers.

And the enormous cost of the scheme has come into question.

Despite Johnson saying on Thursday morning the UK Government “can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque” to asylum seekers, £120 million has been pledged to the Rwandan government as well as £50m to the Ministry of Defence to cover its new requirements.

Patel defended the deal struck with President Paul Kagame’s government at a press conference in Kigali on Thursday.

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She said the East African nation, previously a country from which millions fled during the 1994 genocide, had “one of the strongest records for refugee resettlement”.

The Government has argued that the current UK system is open to abuse by criminals and in particular, people smugglers.

Patel said: “Putting evil people smugglers out of business is a moral imperative. It requires us to use every tool at our disposal and also to find new solutions.”

The Royal Navy has been given immediate primacy over Border Force in the Channel – meaning it is now sea commanders giving orders over Home Office agents.

The Home Office said that nobody will be removed from the UK if it is deemed unsafe and it’s understood that Rwandan nationals seeking refuge in Britain will not be sent back.