Photograph — Mastercard

The UK Supreme Court ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place and it would be considered illegal to relocate refugees there. PM Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has been botched due to the ruling. However, he is considering suspending a crucial human rights law to facilitate the implementation of the plan to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The Conservative right is putting pressure on the prime minister to implement the scheme fast, in line with his commitment to “stop the boats” amidst the Channel refugee crisis. MPs with right-leaning views insist on the departure of a flight to Kigali before the upcoming general election, expected to be held before the end of 2024.

In April last year, England signed a deal with Rwanda to send migrants who arrived in the UK across the English Channel on boats for their asylum to be processed in the East African country. According to the program, individuals who entered Britain without documentation after January 1, 2022, were slated for deportation to Rwanda, located approximately 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) away. In Rwanda, their asylum claims would be assessed. The UK government has stated that the average cost of sending each asylum seeker to Rwanda is 169,000 pounds ($210,208).

The ruling supported a decision by the London Court of Appeals on June 29, affirming that the policy violates Britain’s Human Rights Act, which adopts the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law. The first deportation flight to Rwanda was prevented by a last-minute injunction from the ECHR on June 14.

“Stopping the boats” was one of the top five agendas of Rishi Sunak that he committed to working on after becoming prime minister in October 2022. Sunak and the Conservative party have emphasized their key immigration policy, focusing on the increasing influx of individuals arriving in Britain by boat. 

Why was the Rwanda Plan rejected?

The court determined that the UK participates in several conventions, including the refugee convention. According to these agreements, the Rwanda plan is deemed illegal due to the possibility of human rights violations in Rwanda or the home countries of the refugees. The judges stated in the verdict, “There are significant reasons to believe that if asylum seekers were relocated to Rwanda, they would be at a genuine risk of mistreatment through refoulement to their country of origin.”

The UN refugee convention opposes refoulement, which involves sending refugees back to countries where they may face harm. The court determined that Rwanda did not provide a haven for refugees, emphasizing that individuals should only be relocated to nations adhering to the non-refoulement principle. 

Rwanda is widely known for its poor human rights record. It has violated many treaty commitments it had pledged to uphold. The courts in Rwanda also lack effective oversight of government actions and judicial independence. Additionally, the Rwandan government has breached a prior asylum agreement with Israel, undermining its credibility and showing that its promises cannot be trusted without scrutiny.

Rwandan authorities have engaged in abusive practices that extend beyond its borders. In August, the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo presented solid evidence indicating an involvement of the Rwandan forces in supporting and fighting alongside the M23 armed group. Rwandan refugees and individuals from the diaspora disclosed instances of threats and harassment by agents or proxies of the Rwandan government. According to Human Rights Watch, there are many cases involving the killing, disappearance, or arrest of Rwandan refugees in questionable circumstances, including incidents in Mozambique and Uganda.

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