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UK Supreme Court Rejects Govt’s Rwanda Asylum Policy

The UK government’s Rwanda plan, devised to tackle illegal migration, has been dismissed by the Supreme Court, ending over 18 months of legal battles in the UK.

Lord Reed announced the “unanimous” judgment from the court’s justices on Wednesday, saying those sent to the country would be at “real risk” of being returned home, whether their grounds to claim asylum were justified or not.

But the government said it “takes issue with the ruling”, and that Rwanda was “committed to its international obligations” on human rights.

The deportation scheme, which would see those arriving in the UK illegally – including via small boats – deported to the east African nation, was first put forward by Boris Johnson in April 2022.

Successive prime ministers all claimed the policy would act as a deterrent to those seeking to cross the Channel, as well as help to break up people-smuggling gangs.

But justices said under United Nation’s refugee convention, asylum seekers had to be protected from “refoulement” – being sent back to their country – and this would not be the case in Rwanda.

Lord Reed said there were “serious and systematic defects in Rwanda’s procedures and institutions for processing asylum claims”, meaning there were “concerns about the asylum process itself, such as the lack of legal representation, the risk that judges and lawyers will not act independently of the government in politically sensitive cases, and a completely untested right of appeal to the High Court”.

The justice also said there was a “surprisingly high rate of rejection of asylum claims from certain countries in known conflict zones”, including Syria and Yemen, which many people coming to the UK may originate from.

And he pointed to an “apparent inadequacy of the Rwandan government’s understanding of the requirements of the Refugee Convention”, as well as evidence it had failed to comply with its obligations on non-refoulement when it signed a similar deal with Israel.

“The Supreme Court accepts that the Rwandan government entered into the [deal with the UK] in good faith, that it has incentives to ensure that it is adhered to, and that monitoring arrangements provide a further safeguard,” said Lord Reed.

“Nevertheless, the evidence shows that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that asylum claims will not be determined properly, and that asylum seekers will therefore be at risk of being returned directly or indirectly to their country of origin.

“The changes and capacity-building needed to eliminate that risk may be delivered in the future, but they were not shown to be in place when the lawfulness of the Rwanda policy had to be considered in these proceedings.”

Refugee charities have consistently called the proposal “inhumane” and said it breaks human rights laws, while opposition parties have deemed the plan a “gimmick”.

An injunction from the European Court of Human Rights stopped the first flight to Rwanda from taking off in June last year and the scheme has been embroiled in litigation ever since, meaning no asylum seekers have yet been deported to the country.

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