Rwanda asylum plan is lawful, high court rules, in boost for UK government

Decision comes after two other judges said policy failed to consider circumstances of those being deported

Campaigners staging an anti-Rwanda deportation demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Getty
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The UK government’s controversial plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda is legal, judges at the country's High Court said on Monday.

The ruling is a partial victory for the government, after two judges also ruled that the government had failed to consider the circumstances of the people it tried to deport.

The decision is expected to be appealed.

Several challenges were brought against the proposals announced by then-home secretary Priti Patel in April, which she described as a "world-first agreement" with the east African nation in a bid to deter migrants from crossing the Channel.

The first deportation flight — due to take off on June 14 — was then grounded amid a series of objections.

In summary, Lord Justice Lewis made some recommendations for current Home Secretary Suella Braverman, saying: “The court has concluded that it is lawful for the government to make arrangements for relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda and for their asylum claims to be determined in Rwanda rather than in the UK.

“On the evidence before this court, the government has made arrangements with the government of Rwanda which are intended to ensure that the asylum claims of people relocated to Rwanda are properly determined in Rwanda.”

However, the judge added: “The Home Secretary must consider properly the circumstances of each individual claimant.

“The Home Secretary must decide if there is anything about each person's particular circumstances which means that his asylum claim should be determined in the UK or whether there are other reasons why he should not be relocated to Rwanda."

He said Ms Braverman had "not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants" whose cases had been considered by the High Court.

“For that reason, the decisions in those cases will be set aside and their cases will be referred back to the Home Secretary for her to consider afresh,” he added.

Downing Street 'committed' to plan

Downing Street said the government wanted the Rwanda policy to be implemented as soon as possible but that it was impossible to put a timetable on that while the threat of further legal action remained.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesman was unable to guarantee whether any flights carrying migrants would depart next year but said the government was ready to defend any more legal challenges.

Ms Braverman said she "always maintained that this policy is lawful and today the court has upheld this".

"Our ground-breaking migration partnership with Rwanda will provide individuals relocated with support to build new lives there, while disrupting the business model of people-smuggling gangs putting lives at risk through dangerous and illegal small boat crossings.

"I am committed to making this partnership work — my focus remains on moving ahead with the policy as soon as possible and we stand ready to defend against any further legal challenge," added Ms Braverman, who will make a statement to the House of Commons later on Monday.

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said the country welcomed the ruling and stood “ready to offer asylum seekers and migrants safety and the opportunity to build a new life in Rwanda”.

“This is a positive step in our quest to contribute innovative, long-term solutions to the global migration crisis,” she added.

Campaigners called the decision “disappointing” and warned it would separate families, prolong persecution and endanger victims of torture.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, said the charity was “concerned that today's decision fails to recognise the serious risks that the Rwanda removals policy presents for survivors of torture”.

Josie Naughton, chief executive of migrant charity Choose Love, said the ruling “flies in the face of international commitments and accountability”. Campaigners will “continue to fight” for the “human right to seek asylum”, she added.

She said: “Today's ruling will tear apart families, prolong persecution and put victims of torture and trauma in danger once again.

UK coastguard responds to migrant emergency in English Channel — in pictures

“A dark cloud is now hanging over the UK's once celebrated record on human rights.

“Hostility has come at the expense of compassion and the country is turning its back on the principle that all should have rights to live in freedom and without pain.

“It sets a dangerous precedent for evading international and moral commitments towards those seeking asylum. Human rights exist regardless of today's ruling."

Campaigners would “continue to stand up for humanity and dignity”, she added.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said it was disappointed in the decision and warned the government that moving ahead with plans would “damage the UK's reputation as a country that values human rights”.

Mr Solomon said it would also undermine the UK's commitment to provide safety to those fleeing conflict and oppression, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“Treating people who are in search of safety like human cargo and shipping them off to another country is a cruel policy that will cause great human suffering,” he said.

“The scheme is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. The possibility of being sent off to Rwanda is causing huge distress to those we work with, including young people who are becoming extremely anxious and in some cases self-harming.

“Instead of outsourcing our international commitment to provide safe haven to those fleeing for their lives — including people from Ukraine and Afghanistan — we should be focusing on operating an orderly, humane and fair asylum system, and developing safe routes such as humanitarian visas.”

Challenge

At a five-day hearing in September, lawyers for several asylum seekers — along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action — argued that the plans were unlawful and that Rwanda "tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents".

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, intervened in the case, telling the court that Rwanda "lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system" and that the policy would lead to a serious risk of breaches of the Refugee Convention.

At a hearing in October, lawyers for the charity Asylum Aid challenged the policy, arguing that the procedure was "seriously unfair" and also unlawful, with asylum seekers put at risk of being removed without access to legal advice.

The Home Office defended the claims, with lawyers arguing that the agreement between the UK and Rwanda provided assurances that ensure everyone sent there would have a "safe and effective" refugee status determination procedure.

People deported to Rwanda would be provided with "adequate accommodation", food, free medical assistance, education, language and professional development training, and "integration programmes", judges were told, as part of plans that have cost at least £120 million.

Lord Justice Lewis said a further hearing would take place in mid-January to handle the consequences of the judgment, including costs and applications to go to the Court of Appeal.

The ruling came a week after four people died and 43 were rescued in one of two incidents involving small boats in the English Channel.

In the other, 50 people were saved, five of them pulled from the freezing water, after their boat started to sink.

Several asylum seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union filed lawsuits to stop the Conservative government acting on the deportation agreement with Rwanda.

The government wants to send some migrants who arrive in the country as stowaways or in boats to the East African country, where their asylum claims would then be processed.

Applicants granted asylum would stay in Rwanda rather than returning to the UK.

More than 44,000 people have arrived in Britain across the Channel this year.

Updated: December 19, 2022, 2:35 PM
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