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“Unlawful”: Campaigners welcome ruling against UK Government on Rwanda policy

This news post is 11 months old

The Court of Appeal ruled that the plan could breach human rights.

Charities and campaigners have welcomed a legal decision after judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the plan to send asylum seekers to the African country could breach human rights. 

The decision, taken by the court on Thursday, ruled that the UK Government’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful, following a challenge from charity Asylum Aid. 

The plan, first touted in 2022, has been subject to several legal challenges. These include the latest decision at the Court of Appeal with judges claiming the African country had not provided enough safeguards to prove it is a "safe third country".

A majority of judges found that there was not sufficient evidence that those made to travel to Rwanda would not be forced to return to their countries of persecution - potentially putting the UK in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

This ruling overturned a previous decision from last year, with a future appeal expected by the UK Government. 

Both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and the Rwandan Government, have expressed their displeasure at the decision, with the Tory leader saying he "fundamentally disagrees" with the Court of Appeal. 

Asylum Aid, who brought the case forward, celebrated the decision. They wrote on social media: “We are so pleased that the Court of Appeal has deemed the Rwanda policy unlawful on grounds of safety. 

“This is a vindication on the importance of the Rule of Law.”

Steve Smith MBE, the CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais who brought an earlier legal challenge against the policy, said: “We have always believed that the Government’s Rwanda policy is cruel, immoral and that it is not a safe country to remove refugees too. We are immensely relieved to hear that the Court of Appeal agrees.

“Survivors of war, torture and human rights abuses have had great pain and torment inflicted on them by our Government threatening them with removal to Rwanda. Amongst the people we are supporting there have been attempted suicides and self-harm due to the fear caused by the Rwanda policy. Now, after all that trauma, judges have ruled that Rwanda is not a safe country.

“After today’s judgement, it’s time the Government abandoned its brutal Rwanda policy and any alternative proposal to shirk the UK’s responsibility for people seeking asylum. Instead, they should offer safe passage to refugees in Calais as the effective and compassionate way to put smugglers out of business, end small boat crossings and save lives.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomed the judgement of the UK Court of Appeal issued with regard to the proposed transfer of asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

UNHCR’s role in litigation regarding the UK’s intention to transfer asylum-seekers to Rwanda has throughout the case been in line with UNHCR’s global supervisory responsibilities regarding the implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

In their submissions to the court, UNHCR expressed its longstanding and well-known concerns about the “externalisation” of asylum obligations.

They continued to urge the Government of the United Kingdom to instead pursue other measures, including cooperation with the UK’s European neighbours and fair and fast asylum procedures, that would “be more humane, efficient, and cost-effective”.

The Scottish Refugee Council added: “We are pleased to see international human rights laws have been defended. In Scotland we have an ethical duty to challenge and mitigate the Illegal Migration Bill.

“This legislation closes the door to safety that is so desperately needed by people seeking asylum, irrespective of where they fled, be that Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and other wars, oppressive regimes and human rights abuses.

“We must protect not penalise those who have come here seeking sanctuary or who are trapped in exploitation, and uphold our legal and moral obligations.”

In July 2022, PCS - the trade union representing Home Office workers - alongside Care4Calais, Detention Action and eight refugees, launched a legal challenge by way of judicial review to the governments Rwanda policy, which is designed to deport refugees to Rwanda without allowing due consideration of their asylum claims. 

Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at PCS, who has been leading the campaign for the union, said: “The decision of the Court of Appeal is a vindication of our position. We do not take litigation lightly, but we could not stand by and allow our members to be subjected to stressful, dangerous and hostile working conditions. Nor could we stand by and allow refugees to be subjected to this inhumanity.”