A controversial plan to deport asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda, first proposed during Boris Johnson’s government, was today ruled to be legal by the UK’s high court. No one has yet been sent to the east African country on what would likely be a one-way ticket, but today’s judgement paves the way for deportations to begin, and the current government has said it is keen to press ahead.
“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,” read part of a summary of the judgement by Lord Justice Lewis, who oversaw the high court case.
Suella Braverman, who became home secretary as part of UK prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government in October, inherited the policy but has stood by it. In October she said it was her “dream” to see flights take asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.
Who would be deported and at what cost?
In April 2022, it emerged that the UK government had struck a deal with Rwanda, and has already paid around £140 million to the country to process asylum seekers’ claims, and re-home them, likely in Rwanda. It will also pay further processing and flight costs. A first flight was stopped by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights in June. Further flights have been awaiting today’s judgement.
Braverman’s contention is that the deportation of asylum seekers will deter human-traffickers from exploiting desperate refugees, by making the UK a less attractive destination, particularly for those crossing in small boats from continental Europe.
Small-boat crossings have become much more common in the last five years, leading to an increasing number of deaths. More than 40,000 people have crossed the channel in small boats in 2022, with around 30 dying, including four in icy waters last week.
Asylum seekers from any part of the world who arrive on UK shores could be sent to Rwanda under the terms of the deal that was the subject of today’s judgement. A decision on whether an appeal to it will be allowed was adjourned until Jan.16 2023.
Reaction to the judgement
Refugee groups, asylum charities, human rights groups, and opposition members of parliament have forcefully criticized the plan and today’s ruling.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, a charity that works with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, who has been one of the policy’s most outspoken critics, said in a statement that the plans would damage the UK’s reputation, internationally.
“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. The scheme is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Several groups have said they will continue to fight the policy which, if put into practice, could set a new global precedent for the rich world outsourcing asylum ‘problems’ to third-party states—and ignoring their historical part in the problem in the process.