On 15 November, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled the government’s scheme to send refugees to Rwanda as unlawful.
The Supreme Court pointed out the risk of asylum seekers being returned to their home country, after having been sent to Rwanda, where they could face persecution.
This is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which the UK signed over 70 years ago.
The Rwanda plan was first announced in April 2022 and would have seen asylum seekers who arrived in the UK illegally be sent to Rwanda to claim asylum there.
If unable to do so, they would instead be able to settle in Rwanda on non-asylum grounds or continue to seek asylum in another “safe third country.”
The UK already paid £140m to Rwanda in advance with the first flight scheduled in June 2022, but so far, no asylum seeker has been sent there due to legal challenges.
The Supreme Court also said that there has been no proper assessment if Rwanda was a safe place for refugees and pointed out the country’s poor human rights record, an issue already brought up by refugee organisations when the scheme was first announced.
The Rwandan government responded to the ruling by stating:
“We take our humanitarian responsibilities seriously and will continue to live up to them.”
Home Secretary James Cleverly addressed the House of Commons on the day of the ruling claiming that several issues raised by the Supreme Court had already been taken care of.
“We have been working with Rwanda to build capacity and amend agreements with Rwanda to make clear that those sent there cannot be sent to another country than the UK.”
He also pointed out the importance the government sees in stopping illegal immigration in the UK.
“Illegal migration is dangerous, it undermines the laws of our country, it is unfair on those who come here legally and on the British people who play by the rules.”
In addition to the ECHR, the current Rwanda plan would also break three UK laws that were passed by parliament over the last 30 years.
In a press conference following the ruling, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was prepared to change the laws and introduce emergency legislation to end the “merry-go-round” of systematic legal complications to the Rwanda scheme.
“If the Strasbourg court chooses to intervene against the expressed wishes of parliament, I am prepared to do what is necessary to get flights off.”
“When we have addressed the Supreme Court’s concerns, people will know that if they come here illegally, they will not get to stay and so they will stop coming altogether.”
Sunak, who made ‘Stop the Boats’ one of his government’s five priorities, made it clear that he is determined to go ahead and still planning for the first planes to take off to Rwanda in the spring of 2024, despite the court’s decision.
He said “When I said I would stop the boats, I meant it.
“Today’s judgement has not weakened my resolve; it has only hardened it.”
“Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Leaving For His First PMQ’s” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.