Top court declares UK-Rwanda migrant deal unlawful

Wednesday November 15 2023
asylum seekers

Migrants on April 14, 2022 huddle under blankets, brought to port by the UK Border Force. PHOTO | GLYN KIRK | AFP


The UK Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that an asylum arrangement with Rwanda was unlawful, citing possibility that refugees sent to Kigali could be at risk of being returned to countries from which they have fled, and hence be re-subjected to more inhumane treatment.

In a unanimous decision, the five judges of the apex court said the Court of Appeal was right to conclude in June that there had not been a proper assessment of whether Rwanda was safe.

Reversing an earlier decision that had deemed it safe, a UK High Court of Appeal had said Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers due to deficiencies in its asylum processes. 

Read: UK court says Rwanda still not safe for asylum seekers

The latest decision is a major setback for both the UK and Rwanda, which are 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.


For Rwanda, while the deal doesn’t create any legal obligations between the parties, it says it remains committed to implementing the memorandum of understanding signed in April 2022.  

"This is ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system," Rwanda's government said in a statement.

Read: Challenges that dog UK asylum seekers deal with Rwanda

"However, we do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees, in terms of refoulement. Rwanda and the UK have been working together to ensure the integration of relocated asylum seekers into Rwandan society," the government added saying it remains "committed to its international obligations, and we have been recognized by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees".