Go-ahead on the implementation of the UK Government’s Rwanda policy on hold following human rights intervention
Words by Evie Felton
The Nationality and Borders Bill, detailing the UK’s new policy regarding asylum seekers originally came into law in April 2022. In creating this law, the Government made a deal with Rwanda. This deal has provided the British Government with the legal powers to detain asylum seekers arriving in the UK via the English Channel and deport them to Rwanda to be processed and potentially resettled there.
The Government’s choice to partner with Rwanda raised controversy all throughout the development of the new immigration policy with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) declaring that the policy “undermines the established international refugee protection system”. Consistent concerns are centred around Rwanda’s historical human rights record and its existence as an “authoritarian state”.
During the first week of September, the Government’s decision to partner with Rwanda has been challenged in the High Court by various charity organisations and lawyers specialising in human rights, including Care4Calais and Detention Action. Among a total of 40 barristers who are opposing the Government’s policy and fighting for the safe treatment of asylum seekers, Lawyer Raza Husain QC has been representing numerous asylum seekers who are currently at risk of being deported to Rwanda. The hearing began on the 5th of September in Boris Johnson’s final few days as Prime Minister and is expected to continue into October. Prime Minister Liz Truss has declared her intention to continue with the implementation of the Rwanda policy. The new Home Secretary has also reiterated her personal support for the policy, announcing at the recent Tory Party Conference that is her “dream” to see a flight deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
It has come to light in the current and ongoing High Court hearing that in the early stages of developing the policy, the option for the UK to partner with Rwanda was initially ruled out on human rights grounds. Despite very vocal objections from numerous sources, including internally from Foreign Office officials, the previous Home Secretary Priti Patel persisted in constructing a partnership between the UK and Rwandan government. Patel ignored the evidence and concerns regarding Rwandan breaches of human rights and the country’s failure to provide safe treatment for asylum seekers. Throughout the High Court hearing, lawyers representing the UK Government have continued to defend Priti Patel’s decision to partner with Rwanda to facilitate the deportation of asylum seekers.
Following the accession of the Nationality and Borders Bill into Law, the first deportation flight to Rwanda was scheduled for the 14th of June to transport 7 asylum seekers. However, the flight never took off as the international court of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened, advocating for the asylum seekers’ right to appeal their deportation orders. At the time, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted the cancellation of the flight was merely a “temporary setback” to the launch of her Rwanda policy, with the Government making its intention to dispute the ECHR’s ruling regarding the legality of the Rwandan deportations clear. The new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has expressed her willingness to leave the ECHR in order to sidestep the opposition it has put against the Rwanda policy.
This High Court case is due to have a second hearing from the charity Asylum Aid in mid-October. It is anticipated that following this, the High Court will deliver its final verdict.