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Rwanda Asylum Policy Ruled Unlawful

migration

The Government’s Rwanda asylum policy has been ruled unlawful as the Supreme Court upheld an earlier Court of Appeal ruling which said the policy leaves people sent to Rwanda open to human rights breaches.

The Government has already spent £140m on the plan but this ruling by the UK’s most senior court effectively ends the policy’s chances of ever being realised in its current form.

More than 100,000 people have arrived in the UK via illegal crossings since 2018, though the number appears to be falling this year. In 2022, 45,000 people reached the UK in small boats. The total is on course to be lower for 2023, with the total for the year so far below 28,000 as of November 12.

Immigration policy

Ministers say the plan to deport asylum seekers and ban them from returning is needed to tackle small boat crossings. However, the controversial policy has been subject to challenges since it was first announced by Boris Johnson in April 2022. Flights were also prevented from taking off in June last year after the Court of Appeal ruled the approach was unlawful due to a lack of human rights safeguards.

The legal case against the policy hinges on the principle of “non-refoulement” – that a person seeking asylum should not be returned to their country of origin if doing so would put them at risk of harm – which is established under both UK and international human rights law. Ten claimants in the Supreme Court case argued that ministers had ignored clear evidence that Rwanda’s asylum system was unfair and arbitrary.

In a unanimous decision, the court’s five justices agreed with the Court of Appeal that there had not been a proper assessment of whether Rwanda was safe. The judgement does not ban sending migrants to another country, but it leaves the Rwanda scheme in tatters – and it is not clear which other nations are prepared to do a similar deal with the UK.

In their judgement, the Supreme Court justices said there were “substantial grounds” to believe people deported to Rwanda could then be sent, by the Rwandan government, to places where they would be unsafe.

It said the Rwandan government had entered into the agreement in “good faith” but the evidence cast doubt on its “practical ability to fulfil its assurances, at least in the short term”, to fix “deficiencies” in its asylum system and see through “the scale of the changes in procedure, understanding and culture which are required”.

Responses

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded by saying “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. Crucially, the Supreme Court – like the Court of Appeal and the High Court before it – has confirmed that the principle of sending illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing is lawful. This confirms the government’s clear view from the outset.” Sunak is expected to hold a press conference in Downing Street this afternoon.

Lee Anderson MP, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, urged the government to ignore the Supreme Court and “put planes in the air” while Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, the landing point for many of the small boats, called for a total overhaul of the government’s immigration plans.

She said: “The Supreme Court decision on Rwanda means the policy is effectively at an end. No planes will be leaving and we now need to move forward. “With winter coming the timing of this decision couldn’t be worse. Be in no doubt, this will embolden the people smugglers and put more lives at risk.”

Charity Asylum Aid said the government must “abandon the idea of forcibly removing people seeking asylum to third countries”, describing the policy as “cruel and ineffective” while the Home Secretary James Cleverly said it was “clear there is an appetite for this concept”. He added the government will “continue to look at every possible avenue” to disrupt people trafficking networks.

A spokesman for the Rwandan government said the policy’s legality was “ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system”, but added “we do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country”.

Final thought

The Supreme Court decision comes as the political fallout continues after the sacking of Suella Braverman on Monday. Sunak dismissed her days before the court was due to rule on the policy which she had championed as home secretary, after a row about her criticism of the Metropolitan Police. In a critical letter, Braverman sand the prime minister had “failed to prepare any sort of credible Plan B” in the event the Supreme Court halts the policy.

The Government’s furthering of the culture war through the discourse of “Stop the Boats” and the promotion of the illegal migration bill is unhelpful. To deal with asylum seekers effectively, the Government must carry out coordinated efforts and provide support to the entire system to avoid backlogs and overwhelming local authorities. 

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