On November 15th, the UK Supreme Court ruled against the government's plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, deeming it unsafe and a violation of human rights.
Criticism of the deal had been ongoing, with rights groups and the UN Refugee Agency questioning its compatibility with international obligations. Over 150 civil society organizations opposed the policy, emphasizing that financial support shouldn't replace states' responsibility to protect asylum seekers.
Before this landmark decision, the European Court of Human Rights protected the rights of migrants by stopping the 1st flight for deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda scheduled by the UK government on 14th June 2022 through an injunction.
UK’s Anti-Immigration Agenda
In October, the UK government enacted the Illegal Migration Act 2023, aiming to detain or permanently deport small-boat migrants to their country of origin or a third nation. This aligns with the conservative government's broader policy, led by PM Rishi Sunak, to reduce the number of migrants and refugees.
As a key component of the New Immigration Plan which highlights the government’s anti-immigration agenda, the UK government signed an agreement with Rwanda in April 2022. Under this agreement, migrants arriving in the UK via boats across the English Channel were slated to be sent to Rwanda for processing their asylum claims, with no option to re-enter the UK.
What does the Agreement Entail
The "UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership," a 5-year asylum arrangement, officially allows the UK to send migrants to Rwanda. Under this partnership, migrants will either be granted permission to reside in Rwanda or facilitated in returning to their country of origin, with no option to enter the UK.
According to the agreement, if migrants reject this arrangement, they will be sent back to their country of origin. The relocation criteria include individuals who pass through a safe country, those with connections to a safe country, and those making irregular journeys across the English Channel.
Formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on April 13, 2022, between the UK Home Secretary and Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs, the partnership involves the UK providing development funding of £120 million to Rwanda.
The MoU specifies that the arrangement is not legally binding, making it non-justiciable and devoid of conferred rights or obligations. It is set to last for 5 years but is subject to renewal or suspension.
Treatment of Refugees
It is important to note that Britain accommodated refugees from Ukraine but is unwilling to take in asylum seekers from North Africa and the Middle East. It is imperative to ask if the UK’s reluctance towards accommodating immigrants is a racial issue.
Moreover, there have been incidents of verbal and physical abuse as reported by a British Inquiry.
As per the report, the migrants are kept in prison-like conditions in detention centres. Migrants faced derogatory remarks and inappropriate use of force, as confirmed by the chairman of the inquiry.
Sunak’s Alternative Plan
As the refugees and the rights group celebrate the Court’s decision, Sunak is set to introduce emergency legislation that will provide a guarantee in law that those who are relocated from the UK to Rwanda will be protected against removal from Rwanda. Moreover, it will ensure people can't further delay flights by bringing systemic challenges in the domestic courts and stop the government’s policy from being repeatedly blocked.
The irony persists as the UK, despite being a party to vital international conventions such as the UN Refugee Convention and an early adopter of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), is actively deviating from the principles embedded in these agreements.
This departure from established commitments contrasts with a broader trend in some EU member countries, where right-wing opposition to migration initiatives, like the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, is gaining traction.
Questions to Ponder Upon
How impactful does this decision seem for the refugees considering the rise of right-wing politics in Europe?
To what extent did leaving the European Union affect the policies of the UK concerning migrants?
Jazeera, A. (2023, November 15). What’s the UK’s ‘unlawful’ Rwanda immigration plan? Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/15/whats-the-uks-unlawful-rwanda-immigration-plan
Gower, Butchard, & McKinney. (2022, December 20). UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk.
Caato, B. M. (2022, June 8). ‘I’ll take my life’: UK refugees being deported to Rwanda despair. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/6/8/uk-rwanda-deportation-refugees
UK inquiry: Migrants awaiting deportation are kept “in prison-like” conditions at a detention centre | AP News. (2023, September 19). AP News. https://apnews.com/article/uk-migrants-detention-abuses-report-e1ca0b275e7dad5f8e11169a07432370
Marsi, F. (2023, November 16). Sunak battles Supreme Court ruling: What next for the UK’s Rwanda plan? Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/16/uk-ponders-emergency-legislation-whats-next-for-rwanda-immigration-plan
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Baczynska, G., & Landauro, I. (2023, October 6). Poland, and Hungary stand alone in opposing EU migration reform. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eu-looks-future-summit-migration-enlargement-2023-10-06/