Is it right to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?

The UK intends to send some people who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK to Rwanda to seek asylum there. This is designed to deter unauthorised immigration, including by small boats. Nobody has yet been sent to Rwanda because of legal challenges. The Supreme Court held in November 2023 that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful. The Government decided to continue with the policy. It has concluded a new treaty with Rwanda and secured the passage of new legislation, both designed to render the relocation arrangements lawful. The Prime Minister hopes to begin flights to Rwanda in July 2024. People attempting to claim asylum in the UK will be sent to live in Rwanda instead. The UK and Rwanda agreed a Migration and Economic Development Partnership in April 2022. It included a five-year ‘asylum partnership arrangement’ as detailed in a non-binding memorandum of understanding. In December 2023, this was upgraded to a formal treaty signed by the UK Home Secretary and Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. The arrangement allows the UK to send people to Rwanda who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK and/or have made unauthorised journeys to the UK. Rwanda will either grant them asylum or permanent residence; they cannot apply for return to the UK. Under the treaty, relocated people cannot be sent out of Rwanda (unless the UK Government requests their return). The UK is making significant economic aid and per-person payments to Rwanda. In return, the UK is providing £370 million in development funding to Rwanda, plus another £120 million once 300 people have been relocated. The UK will also pay up to £171,000 per person relocated, largely to cover a five-year integration package. To date, £240 million has been paid over. The arrangement has been controversial, including in Parliament and among some Conservatives. Critics have raised concerns about the policy’s legality, practicality, morality, efficacy and expense. Asylum seekers will no longer have their claim processed in the UK if they arrive illegally. The Home Office plans to use the relocation agreement to remove people who have made dangerous journeys to the UK and are considered ‘inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system. Once the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is fully in force, people’s asylum claims would be automatically inadmissible if they have arrived illegally since 20 July 2023. People whom the Home Office wishes to transfer to Rwanda will be identified and referred to the Rwandan authorities on a case-by-case basis, after an initial screening process following arrival in the UK. Although the agreement focuses on asylum seekers, under the treaty people who have made unauthorised journeys to the UK but not claimed asylum can be relocated to Rwanda as well. The plan has been held up by legal challenges and may be again. Nobody has been removed under the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership since the policy was announced. The first planned flight in June 2022 was halted following a controversial European Court of Human Rights injunction. In November 2023, the Supreme Court found that the Rwanda arrangements were unlawful. In a unanimous decision, the court held that Rwanda was not a safe country because of the risk that it would not decide asylum claims properly and send refugees back to places where they would be persecuted. The Government has decided to press ahead with the Rwanda policy. It is attempting to make the arrangements lawful through the new treaty with extra safeguards for refugees and a new Safety of Rwanda Act which instructs the courts to treat Rwanda as safe. Both came into forced on 25 April 2024. Refugee rights organisations object in principle to the use of ‘externalisation’ policies and consider that the deal undermines the international protection regime set up after World War 2. The UN Refugee Agency and other refugee law experts have questioned whether the deal is compatible with the UK’s obligations under refugee and human rights laws. Some of these concerns are summarised in the annex to this briefing. Himan rights organisations in the UK and around the world have called this policy inhumane.

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