Anyone coming to Great Britain irregularly via the English Channel need not fear deportation to Rwanda for the time being. British Prime Minister Chung is facing defeat in court – and is under huge pressure from the right wing of her party.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered a bitter setback on Wednesday. Five judges of the British Supreme Court have unanimously ruled that the so-called Rwanda Plan is illegal and therefore should not be implemented until further notice. Thus, the court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal in June.
The agreement stipulates that irregularly arrived migrants will not enter Rwanda under Rwandan law unless they have gone through the asylum procedure in Great Britain and, if necessary, seek asylum in the East African country. However, returning to Great Britain was impossible.
The scheme was at the heart of Sunak’s promise to stop boat migration across the English Channel because of its confidence-inhibiting effect. The program has recently attracted interest from other European countries that are considering deporting asylum seekers to safe third countries.
No confidence in Rwanda
A final ruling by the most senior British judges now makes it clear that outsourcing asylum procedures is permissible in principle – but only if the third country in question offers strict safety and procedural guarantees.
The key legal question is whether Rwanda does not adhere to the principle of non-refoulement under international law and whether there is a substantial risk of expelling asylum seekers to states where their lives and limb are at risk. The British government argued that Rwanda had made written commitments to respect humanitarian and international law.
But the UN Based on testimony from the High Commission for Refugees, the judges concluded that Kigali had also been involved in recent abuses.
In his judgement, the president of the court, Lord Reid, noted the poor human rights conditions in Rwanda and systemic problems in the asylum sector. With no preference for help, rejection rates for asylum seekers from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have recently reached 100 percent. However, in Great Britain, most applicants from these countries receive asylum.
Finally, Reid noted a similar agreement between Rwanda and Israel, which had to be concluded in 2018 for legal reasons. Reid argued that Rwanda’s clandestine bringing of asylum seekers to neighboring countries and their deportation to their home countries cast doubt on Kigali’s credibility. “Perhaps in the future there will be the necessary guarantees, but they are not today,” he said, summarizing the judges’ approach.
Braverman’s Front Attack
The defeat in the Supreme Court adds to the political pressure on Sunak. Hardliner Suella Braverman, who sacked Sunak as home secretary as part of a cabinet reshuffle on Monday, attacked the prime minister head-on ahead of the verdict.
In a fascinating letter, he accused Sunak of political fraud and spinelessness and complained that Sunak refused to exclude the effect of international conventions and treaties on migration law. Additionally, he did not develop a Plan B for the Rwanda Accord.
My letter to the Prime Minister pic.twitter.com/7OBzaZnxr2
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) November 14, 2023
The Home Ministry had already selected 370 asylum seekers to go to Rwanda in January, hoping for a green light from the Supreme Court. But now the criticism of the highest judges that the plan cannot be made with superficial revisions is far-fetched.
Sunak said at a press conference in the evening that he wanted to immediately convert the agreement with Rwanda into a state agreement and therefore put it on a better legal basis. New Home Affairs Minister James wisely said the agreement would give Rwanda concrete assurances that asylum seekers would not be deported illegally.
Sunak also announced an emergency bill requiring the British Parliament to officially declare Rwanda a safe third country. According to the Prime Minister, these measures are intended to ensure that British courts do not put any obstacles in the way of a Rwandan agreement in the future.
It’s unclear how far Sunak intends to take his law. But the prime minister belligerently declared that under no circumstances would he allow a foreign court to stop flights to Rwanda.
The ECHR is not the only barrier
Sunak refers to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Tory right-wing MPs are now calling for a withdrawal from the conference. This would make Great Britain the only European country outside the Convention, along with Russia and Belarus. The ECHR also forms the legal basis for the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement and post-Brexit security cooperation with the EU.
In addition, Lord Reid, the President of the Court, recalled that the principle of non-refoulement is enshrined not only in the ECHR, but also in a whole number of international conventions and national laws. In some cases, the principle even counts as part of the prohibition of torture as part of mandatory international law. In this regard, legal prohibitions on deportation do not vanish into thin air even after withdrawal from the ECHR.
But a mood of rebellion is brewing among right-wing Tories, who already feel marginalized after Braverman’s dismissal. They are thirsty for a grand gesture to finally implement deportations. Lee Anderson, the party’s shirtless deputy leader, openly called on the government to flout the law and announced that asylum seekers should be flown in.
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