Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and the deficiencies in its asylum processes must be corrected for the country to receive asylum-seekers under its migration deal with the United Kingdom, a UK High Court of Appeal ruled Thursday, reversing an earlier decision that had deemed it safe.
“The deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda are such that there are substantial grounds for believing there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda would be returned to their home countries, where they face persecution or other inhumane treatment when in fact, they have a good claim for asylum. In that sense, Rwanda is not a safe country.
“That conclusion is based on the evidence that was before the High Court that the Rwanda system for deciding asylum claims was in the period up to the conclusion of the Rwandan agreement inadequate,” ruled Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett.
He added that the Bench was unanimous in accepting assurances given by the Rwandan government were made in good faith and were intended to address any defects in the asylum process.
“However, the majority believe the evidence does not establish the necessary changes will be by then reliably affected or would be at the time of the removals in consequence sending anyone to Rwanda constitute a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which parliament has required the government to comply with.”
While the UK government will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court, the decision is a major setback for both the United Kingdom and Rwanda, who have been actively promoting the arrangement to UN agencies and other countries as an innovative solution for a “broken” international refugee protection regime.
They contend it will deter criminality, exploitation and abuse and support the humane and respectful treatment of refugees.
Rishi Sunak, UK’s Prime Minister, in a statement issued on Thursday in response to the Court decision, said: “Rwanda is a safe country.
The High Court agreed.
The UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda. We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.”
Now, both countries will await the decision of the Supreme Court to implement the controversial migration deal, which seeks to control illegal migration, with asylum seekers arriving on small boats across the English Channel from France being immediately transferred to Rwanda, where their paperwork will be processed.
For Rwanda, while the deal does not create any legal obligations between the parties, it says it remains committed to implementing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed April 2022.
Rwanda protested reference to the country as not safe, as it continues to host thousands of refugees.
“While this is ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system, we take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers and refugees.
Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world and we have been recognised by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees,” the government said in response to the ruling.
In February 2023, the UNHCR and the EU renewed their partnership with Rwanda to 2026 to continue providing hosting under the Emergency Transit Mechanism for asylum seekers evacuated from Libya.
Kigali says migrants will be entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services as well as the issuance of necessary identification documents.
Human-rights activists maintain concerns about Rwanda’s suitability as a host country and object in principle to the use of “externalisation” policies and consider that the deal undermines the post-WW2 international protection regime.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK chief executive, welcomed the judgment and urged the UK government to abandon its plans.
“The Rwanda deal is a cynical distraction from the pressing need to radically reform our chronically failing asylum procedures — which are slow, increasingly chaotic and leave thousands of people stranded in limbo for years.
“The government should now completely abandon the Rwanda deal — and any others like it — before doing any more damage to our international reputation or to the people threatened by such plans,” Deshmukh said in a statement.
Recently, the UK and Rwanda signed an addendum to the original MoU allowing the transfer of people who have not claimed asylum in the UK. The original memo had limited it to illegal migrants seeking asylum in the UK arriving on small boats from France.
The addendum includes assurances as to the treatment of relocated individuals, monitored by the Joint Committee and the Monitoring Committee, established under the agreement.
The UK Conservative government is under pressure to curb immigration to deliver on its 2019 election pledge to “take back control” of its borders.
It has launched a new separate illegal immigration bill that seeks to give more powers to the government to automatically reject, detain and remove asylum seekers who arrive in the UK illegally.
The controversial illegal migration bill is currently before the House of Lords where it is expected to face some resistance though it will pass.
Critics led by the UNHCR say the bill violates international law (the Refugee Convention) as it may deny protection to many asylum-seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case.