Picture: by Niklas Halle’n / AFP / Taken on June 12, 2022 – Protesters hold up placards as they march towards the Brook House immigration removal centre beside Gatwick Airport, south of London, to demonstrate against the UK government’s intention to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. “The UK government’s ‘cash for humans’ deal with Rwanda is not only deeply immoral, it flies in the face of the laws of this country,” said one advocate.
By Kenny Stancil
The United Kingdom Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that the Conservative Party’s widely denounced plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda is unlawful because the African nation cannot be classified as a “safe third country”.
The right-wing Tory proposal to give refugee applicants one-way plane tickets to an unfamiliar country more than 4,000 miles away is not yet dead as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have already vowed to challenge the ruling in the UK Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Labour Party MPs and human rights campaigners welcomed the decision while stressing the need to remain vigilant.
“Brilliant news,” tweeted Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director at Human Rights Watch. HRW has long opposed the Tories’ effort to outsource migrant detention, condemning it as an abrogation of the UK’s obligations under international law and a “copycat” version of Australia’s “disastrous” offshore asylum processing regime.
“The government must now consign this unlawful, cruel, and inhumane proposal to the history books,” Ahmed added Thursday. “It’s time for an asylum policy which treats people with respect and dignity.”
HRW refugee advocate Emilie McDonnell shared a similar message. “Finally some good news!” she wrote on social media. “The government should now put this cruel, unlawful, and costly policy in the bin where it belongs.
“This judgment is very welcome, but it can’t undo the enormous suffering, harm, and expense already caused by the government’s long and reckless pursuit of a patently unjust scheme.”
Since last year, successive right-wing UK governments have sought to expel tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to Rwanda, paying the country $177 million upfront to house vulnerable migrants just months after criticising it for being repressive.
Then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed in April 2022 that the forced relocation programme, officially called the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement, is necessary to prevent “people smugglers” from turning the English Channel into a “watery graveyard”. In response to such arguments, left-wing MP Zarah Sultana of the opposition Labour Party said, “Deporting refugees to Rwanda has nothing to do with tackling people trafficking and everything to do with whipping up hate and stoking division.”
The first removal flight was scheduled to take off last June, but a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stopped that from happening. The injunction imposed by the ECHR blocks deportations from proceeding until all relevant legal disputes in the UK are resolved.
In Thursday’s decision, which overturned the UK High Court’s December opinion upholding the plan, a three-judge panel from the UK Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 that Rwanda should not be regarded as safe, striking a blow at the heart of the Tories’ scheme. Evidence provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees proved key to the challenge brought by asylum-seekers and human rights groups.
Though he disagreed with his fellow jurists, Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett said the majority found “the deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda are such that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries where they face persecution or other inhumane treatment.”
“The result is that the High Court’s decision that Rwanda was a safe third country is reversed and that unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected removal of asylum-seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful,” he added.
Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said the verdict confirmed that “the UK government’s ‘cash for humans’ deal with Rwanda is not only deeply immoral, it flies in the face of the laws of this country.”
As The Financial Timesreported, “The court rejected other grounds of the appeal by human rights organisations, including more fundamental aspects, such as the appellants’ contention that the policy would put the UK in breach of the UN Refugee Convention.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “We are relieved that the court of appeal has ruled that Rwanda is not a safe country for people who claim asylum. However, we’re disappointed that they have not concluded that the overall policy is unlawful.”
The Law Society of England and Wales argued that the ruling against the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement calls into question the legality of the broader so-called “Illegal Migration Bill” now moving through the British Parliament.
That legislation “would place a legal duty on the government to detain and remove those arriving in the UK illegally, to Rwanda or another ‘safe’ third country,” The Guardianreported. “A large backlog of people due to be removed under the bill will build, the society said, adding: ‘They will be left in limbo and could remain in detention or government supported accommodation indefinitely’.
“The Rwanda deal is a cynical distraction from the pressing need to radically reform our own chronically failing asylum procedures.”
Asylum Aid director Alison Pickup told Al Jazeera that many of her clients breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday.
“Some of them have experienced torture, they’ve had very traumatic journeys, and have been waiting for over a year to find out if they will be able to make a case in the UK — or if they will be sent to Rwanda, a country they know nothing about,” she said, expressing hope that the ruling will “give them that reassurance of safety.”
In a statement, Sunak said, “I strongly believe the Rwandan government has provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum-seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries, something that the lord chief justice agrees with.”
“The policy of this government is very simple: It is this country — and your government — who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs,” said the prime minister. “And I will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.”
Braverman, for her part, said that she is “determined to deliver” and “won’t take a backward step from that.”
Yvette Cooper, a Labour Party MP serving as shadow home secretary, welcomed the court’s blow to the Tories’ “unworkable, unethical, and extortionate” Rwanda plan and argued that Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” is “completely unravelling.”
BBC News analyst Joe Inwood cautioned, however, that what happens at the UK Supreme Court “is anyone’s guess”. “But given that the two previous courts have given conflicting verdicts, defeat for the government is not guaranteed.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said that “this judgment is very welcome, but it can’t undo the enormous suffering, harm, and expense already caused by the government’s long and reckless pursuit of a patently unjust scheme”.
“The Rwanda deal is a cynical distraction from the pressing need to radically reform our own chronically failing asylum procedures —which are slow, increasingly chaotic, and leave thousands of people stranded in limbo for years,” said Deshmukh. “The government should now completely abandon the Rwanda deal—and any others like it—before doing any more damage to our international reputation or to the people threatened by such plans.”
“Shamefully, the government is still trying to force legislation through parliament to compel it to expel from the UK almost everyone who may ever seek asylum here,” Deshmukh added. “While this judgment may mean that ministers must rethink their plan to use Rwanda for that purpose, they should take this as the opportunity to stop playing politics with people’s lives, scrap the reckless immigration bill, and get down to the serious task of fairly and efficiently deciding the claims of the still relatively few people who seek asylum here.”
Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
This article was first published on Common Dreams