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UK’s Rwanda plan unlawful, court rules

4 December 20230 comments

A British government plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has been ruled unlawful by the UK’s highest court.

The UK’s Supreme Court deemed that people sent to Rwanda would not be safe.

The court issued a unanimous judgement saying the scheme would put asylum seekers at “risk of ill-treatment” because they could be sent back to their home countries once in Rwanda.

The ruling is a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s planned hard-line immigration policy.

Promises to clamp down on illegal migration across the English Channel is shaping as key election platform for the ruling Conservative Party as next year’s general election approaches.

But Mr Sunak made a statement after the ruling pledging a new treaty with the East African country and emergency legislation allowing Britain’s Parliament to declare that it is safe for asylum seekers.

He said that if that failed he was ready to ignore the European Convention on Human Rights rather than let ‘foreign courts’ stand in the way of action. 

“We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps,” he said.

“This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.”

A Rwandan government spokesperson said that it takes issue “with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees”.

Britain and Rwanda signed a deal in April 2022 to send some migrants who arrive in the UK across the English Channel to the East African country.

Once there, they would have their asylum claims processed and, if successful, they would stay.

No asylum seekers have yet been sent to Rwanda with the first planned deportation flight in June 2022 blocked by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights, barring any removals until the conclusion of legal action in Britain.

The Rwanda scheme is the central plank of Mr Sunak’s immigration policy, as he has promised to stop migrants arriving without permission by boat to the south coast of Britain.

The UK receives fewer asylum seekers than many European nations, including Germany, France and Italy. Thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the Channel.

More than 27,300 migrants have crossed the Channel this year, with the year’s total on track to be fewer than the 46,000 who made the journey in 2022.

After the ruling, the recently sacked UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman savaged Mr Sunak, saying he had failed to prepare any sort of credible “plan B” if the programme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda failed in the courts.

Meanwhile, the UN’s migration agency IOM said: “extraterritorial processing poses numerous legal, ethical, and operational challenges. It also puts the rights and dignity of migrants at risk, potentially in contravention of international law”.

“We recognise the challenges many States have with irregular arrivals and the pressures on governments and communities to respond to those challenges.

“We encourage the UK and other Member States to look at solutions that address the underlying factors that drive people to leave home, to offer expanded safe and legal pathways for migration, and to build partnerships with governments along the migration route.

“We will continue to work with our Member States to find and promote sustainable solutions that protect those who are vulnerable, to provide meaningful support to impacted communities, and to work to create more regular pathways for those who are on the move.

“Regardless of status, the dignity and human rights of people on the move should be upheld at all stages of their migration journeys, in line with international law and with the objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration,” IOM said.