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UK Rwanda plan breaches international law – UNHCR

24 January 20240 comments

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has found that the UK’s plans to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda violates international law in a new legal analysis.

The analysis found that the partnership between the UK and Rwanda is incompatible with “the fundamental principles of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing that underpin the international refugee protection system.”

It said the deal was an attempt at “externalisation” of international protection by the UK to transfer its international obligations of protecting refugees and asylum-seekers to Rwanda.

The UNHCR analysis also cites the UK Supreme Court’s judgement in which it ruled that the Rwanda deal was unlawful as evidence that the “deficiencies of the Rwandan system” increases the risk of asylum-seekers being subject to refoulement, an act prohibited under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The UK parliament’s lower House of Commons recently passed the government’s ‘Safety of Rwanda Bill’ by 320 votes to 276, with 11 right-wing Conservatives rebelling.

The essence of the bill is to override a decision by the UK Supreme Court which in November declared the Rwanda plan Rwanda unlawful.

It now goes to the House of Lords, where Sunak does not command an automatic majority and where many peers could seek to oppose a bill which critics say might lead to Britain breaching international law.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been criticised by the UK’s statistics agency over his claim to have cleared the backlog of asylum claims.

The Home Office claimed earlier this month to have cleared a “legacy” backlog of 92,000 applications lodged before July 2022.

The prime minister then posted on social media to say “the backlog of asylum decisions” had been cleared.

But the watchdog said people may have felt “misled” by his language.

Official figures show a decision had not been reached in 4,537 of the “legacy” cases highlighted by the Home Office.

And they also showed that there are still 98,599 cases in the overall backlog where an initial decision has yet to be made.

The UNHCR analysis also says that the UK-Rwanda arrangement amounts to burden-shifting and runs counter to the fundamental principles of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing that underpin the international refugee protection system.

“As of January 2024, UNHCR has not observed changes in the practice of asylum adjudication that would overcome the concerns set out in its 2022 analysis and in the detailed evidence presented to the Supreme Court. […] In short, the treaty lays out an important basis for an improved asylum system, but until the necessary legal framework and implementation capacity is established, the conclusion of the treaty in itself does not overcome continued procedural fairness and other protection gaps,” the analysis says.

Read the full analysis here: UNHCR finds new UK-Rwanda treaty and Safety of Rwanda Bill are incompatible with international refugee law | Electronic Immigration Network