Rwanda scheme ruled unlawful by Court of Appeal

Court of Appeal not convinced that Rwanda is "safe third country"
Protest bus against the scheme. Photo: Richard Lincoln/Alamy

By Zoe Crowther

29 Jun 2023

The government's plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

A group of asylum seekers and campaign organisations including civil service union PCS,  Care4Calais, and Detention Action, brought a case against government's Rwanda scheme to the High Court last year. 

In December, the High Court ruled the scheme was lawful, but the decision was immediately criticised by Labour and other opposing parties who called it “unworkable, unethical, extremely expensive” and the original claimants brought forward a further legal challenge to the Court of Appeal. 

Delivering the Court of Appeal's ruling on Thursday, lord chief justice Ian Burnett said that a majority had ruled the scheme unlawful, but said that he himself was in the minority of those who believed it was legal and that Rwanda should be deemed a "safe" third country.

"The result is that the High Court's decision that Rwanda was a safe third country is reversed and that unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful," he said.

"Finally, I should make clear that our decision implies no view whatever the political merits or otherwise of the Rwanda policy.

"Those are entirely a matter for the government, on which the Court has nothing to say. Our concern is only whether the policy complies with the law as laid down by parliament."

The judge explained that there were "substantial grounds" for believing that there is a real risk those sent to Rwanda could be returned to their home countries where they face persecution, putting them at risk. However, he said he had come to the "opposite conclusion" himself and believed the UK and Rwanda governments had put in "sufficient safeguards" to prevent this from happening. 

"I take the view that the arrangements put in place provide sufficient safeguards in the context where both governments will be determined to make the agreement work and be seen to do so," he continued.

Human rights campaigners have been trying to stop the plans since they were first announced in spring 2022 and there have been no deportation flights to the African country yet, after the first planned flight was grounded on the runway after an intervention by European judges in June 2022. 

The Rwanda plan involves a deal between the UK and Rwandan governments to allow asylum seekers arriving via ‘irregular means’ to the UK to be forcibly removed and held in Rwanda as a 'safe' third country while their claims are being processed.

A spokesperson for the Rwandan government said they "take issue" with the ruling that it is not a safe country and promised that when migrants arrive, they would be welcomed and supported. 

"While this is ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system, we do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers and refugees," they said.

"Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world and we have been recognised by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees.

"We make a significant contribution to dealing with the impacts of the global migration crisis. Rwandans know what it means to be forced to flee home, and to make a new life in a new country.

"As a society, and as a government, we have built a safe, secure, dignified environment, in which migrants and refugees have equal rights and opportunities as Rwandans. Everyone relocated here under this partnership will benefit from this."

The Rwanda scheme is seen as essential to delivering the government’s Illegal Migration Bill that is currently passing through parliament.

However, the controversial bill has been met with intense scrutiny in parliament, and on Wednesday night peers voted in favour of four amendments, including two that would prevent proposals to detain and deport thousands of people to third countries or the countries they came from. 

Another amendment lays out that the bill must comply with international laws such as the European Convention on Human Rights and Refugee Convention.

According to a Home Office economic assessment published on Monday night, the Rwanda plan would cost an estimated £169,000 per migrant.

This article from Politics Home reporter Zoe Crowther first appeared on our sister publication's website

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