Hadi Law

It is likely you have heard of the UK Government’s highly controversial Rwanda migrant scheme, which aims to address irregular migration by relocating some asylum seekers to Rwanda. The scheme has been authorised through the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act. This is despite the Supreme Court ruling previously declaring the scheme unlawful on the grounds that Rwanda is not a safe country.

What is the Rwanda Migrant Scheme?

Announced in April 2022, the scheme targets people who allegedly enter the UK “illegally” (in the words of the Government) from a safe country, after 1 January 2022. Asylum seekers arriving through unauthorised routes, for example engaging people smugglers to take them across the Channel from France, which is deemed a safe country, would have their asylum applications processed in Rwanda instead of the UK. If granted asylum, they would be allowed to stay in Rwanda or apply to settle there on other immigration grounds. Otherwise, they could pursue asylum in another safe third country. However, returning to the UK would not be an option​​. The UK Government contends that this plan will deter individuals from risking perilous Channel crossings. As of early May 2024, more than 8,000 people had made these journeys in small boats, surpassing the total from the same period in 2023 and 2022.

How will the Rwanda Migrant Scheme work?

With the passing of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act, the door opened for up to 52,000 asylum seekers to be eligible for relocation to Rwanda. Despite losing contact with over 3,500 migrants originally slated for removal, the Home Office insists it can still reach all individuals under consideration. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, emphasised that the Government is committed to getting flights off the ground within 10 to 12 weeks, with multiple flights planned each month. An airfield remains on standby, and charter planes are booked. The government intends to bolster operational support with over 800 trained personnel.

What were the concerns raised by the Supreme Court?

In November 2023, the Supreme Court unanimously declared the Rwanda Migrant Scheme unlawful, citing that asylum seekers relocated to Rwanda faced substantial risks of refoulement. The judgment highlighted Rwanda’s human rights issues, including extrajudicial killings and lack of judicial independence, raising concerns that deported individuals could be returned to their home countries where they could suffer persecution or ill-treatment. The ruling followed earlier criticism from organisations like Human Rights Watch and the UNHCR, who expressed doubts about Rwanda’s ability to protect relocated people adequately. Despite intentions to uphold the agreement, Rwanda’s asylum system was deemed insufficiently robust to prevent refoulement​.

The Response to the Court’s Ruling

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the UK government introduced the Safety of Rwanda Bill to enshrine Rwanda’s designation as a safe country in UK law. The legislation compels courts to overlook sections of the Human Rights Act and other international agreements that could hinder deportations to Rwanda​. The UK also strengthened its treaty with Rwanda to provide more assurances. A new monitoring committee, standard operating procedures, and enhanced training were introduced to improve Rwanda’s asylum system​. Moreover, unsuccessful asylum applicants will be offered £3,000 to stay in Rwanda rather than be automatically removed to their country of origin, which the UK government argues will address the refoulment concerns raised by the Supreme Court​.

Why is the Rwanda Migrant Scheme still controversial?

Despite Government assurances, the policy continues to face legal challenges from human rights organisations and opposition parties. Critics argue that the plan undermines international obligations and human rights principles. Labour has vowed to scrap the scheme if it wins the next election. Beyond the humanitarian implications, the plan has also raised concerns about cost. The UK government has already allocated at least £370 million for the scheme over five years, with individual payments for each relocated asylum seeker ranging from £20,000 to £150,000.​ Critics argue that the Government has yet to provide convincing evidence of the plan’s effectiveness in reducing irregular migration, and it remains uncertain whether the deterrent effect will justify the costs​.

Concluding comments

The Rwanda migrant scheme remains a focal point of the UK’s migration policy and reflects broader global challenges around irregular migration. While the Government claims the scheme is critical to deterring dangerous Channel crossings, the Supreme Court’s ruling and widespread criticism reveal substantial concerns regarding its legality, effectiveness, and humanitarian impact. An experienced Immigration Law Solicitor can offer critical assistance to people facing detention and relocation by identifying bespoke risks, advising on the relevant laws, and advocating for their clients’ human rights. For further information on any personal or business immigration matter, please speak to our immigration law team on 01772 447000 or reach out to us on our seven-day-a-week WhatsApp helpline on 07869760533.
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