Rishi Sunak has welcomed the Rwandan president to Downing Street amid signs that ministers are struggling to find an airline or housing in Kigali to carry out their flagship deportation plan.

The meeting on Tuesday was overshadowed by the former home secretary Suella Braverman’s criticism of fallen expectations over the policy, which aims to forcibly send people seeking asylum 4,000 miles to central Africa.

The two leaders discussed the £500m plan before Sunak’s safety of Rwanda bill returns to the Commons on Monday – exactly two years after Boris Johnson announced the plan to deport “tens of thousands” of people arriving across the Channel in small boats. So far, none have been sent.

Government insiders said Sunak and Paul Kagame remained confident that the bill would pass by the end of April after another round of parliamentary ping pong between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and that flights would take off “in the spring”.

But they remain tight-lipped over whether they have found an airline to transport asylum seekers on any one-way trip. One airline, AirTanker, has refused to confirm or deny claims that it has been in talks with the Home Office over Rwandan flights.

In June 2022, the company said in exchanges with the charity Freedom From Torture that it had no plans to operate flights to Rwanda. AirTanker has been approached for comment.

Reports have also alleged that properties in Kigali earmarked for the stalled deportation scheme have instead been sold to local buyers. The Times claimed that 70% of the 163 properties in the Rwandan capital have now been bought, meaning there is only space for a few dozen asylum seekers.

Journalists asked Kagame as he entered No 10 whether the housing is being sold off but he did not respond. A Downing Street spokesperson said the two men discussed the “pioneering UK and Rwanda migration and economic development partnership”.

“Both leaders looked forward to flights departing to Rwanda in the spring,” the spokesperson added.

Braverman said the government’s asylum plan was floundering, adding: “I’m disappointed to read that expectations have fallen and that the Rwandans are now selling off some of those properties.

“The only way we generate a deterrent effect to stop people getting on the boats and coming to the UK illegally is regular flights, with hundreds of passengers on those flights being sent to Rwanda on a regular basis,” she said on LBC Radio.

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“I’m afraid the plan, as it stands today, won’t deliver that.”

The Rwandan government has disputed the amount of properties that have been sold privately and insisted the scheme is one of several estates for migrants.

According to latest Home Office figures, 82 people were detected crossing the Channel in small boats on Monday, taking the total so far this year to 5,517.

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Guardian

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