Politics, Europe

UK Supreme Court rejects Rwanda plan to deal with migrants

Highest court backs Court of Appeal ruling that sending migrants to Rwanda is unlawful

Burak Bir  | 15.11.2023 - Update : 15.11.2023
UK Supreme Court rejects Rwanda plan to deal with migrants Border Force Speedwell brought 45 Migrants in to Dover docks this morning the Migrants are trying to cross the channel to the UK before they make it law that they are shipped to Rwanda, in Dover, United Kingdom on May 03, 2022. Border Force and the military are seen bring them ashore. ( Stuart Brock - Anadolu Agency )


Rejecting a high-profile policy meant to help deal with migration, the UK Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the government's plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful.

The controversial plan that seeks to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda while their claims are being assessed was ruled unlawful by the highest court, as they found the East African country is not a safe place for asylum seekers to be housed.

The court's judges unanimously upheld a Court of Appeal decision that the policy was unlawful.

Announcing the order, Supreme Court President Lord Reed said that there was a "real risk" migrants could be sent from Rwanda to the places they fled from.

In January campaigners and asylum seekers won a legal challenge to the Rwanda plan as the Court of Appeal ruled that the deportation scheme was unlawful.

Sunak still committed to stop boats

Following the ruling, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak released a statement, saying it was not the outcome they wanted, however he added that his government is still "completely committed to stopping the boats."

The Supreme Court has "confirmed that the principle of sending illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing is lawful" and it "confirms the government's clear view from the outset," he added.

"The government has been working on a new treaty with Rwanda, and we'll finalize that in light of today's judgment. If necessary, I am prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks," said Sunak.

According to Downing Street, the British premier will hold a press conference on the issue later on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, new Home Secretary James Cleverly reacted to the verdict, saying the UK's partnership with the East African country, "while bold and ambitious," is just one part of a way to stop the boats and tackle illegal migration.

"But clearly there is an appetite for this concept. Across Europe, illegal migration is increasing and governments are following our lead – Italy, Germany and Austria are all exploring models similar to our partnership with Rwanda," he said.

"We will carefully review today's judgment to understand implications and next steps," added Cleverly, who replaced Suella Braverman as home secretary on Monday.

'Huge victory'

Many described the verdict as victory and called on the government to reconsider its approach on tackling the issue.

Britain's opposition Labour Party said that the Conservative Party's Rwanda plan has failed and Sunak is "too weak" to deliver on his promises to the British people.

"He should adopt Labour's plan to reduce the backlog and go after criminal gangs," it said on X.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: "My Labour government will stop squandering taxpayer's money and deliver the secure borders that the country needs."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan reacted to the government's plan, saying: "it's not cruel, callous and morally reprehensible – the Supreme Court has confirmed it's unlawful too."

Sending people fleeing violence and persecution to a country thousands of miles away is "shameful," he said on X.

Meanwhile, Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf called the plan "morally repugnant," adding that the policy "must be scrapped."

"We need a humane system that doesn't leave asylum seekers stuck in destitution for years without the right to work," he said on X.

"This is a huge victory, but the fight for a humane asylum policy is not over. We cannot stop campaigning until there is safe passage for all those just trying to survive," former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on X.

In a statement, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that Britain has "a moral and legal responsibility" to those who come to the country seeking safety and refuge.

Nongovernmental organizations, including Save the Children and Refugee Council, also welcomed the court ruling and called on the British government to reconsider its approach.

European rights court stops 1st flight to Rwanda last year

The plan has been one of the most controversial planks of the government's migration policy, as it sparked international criticism and mass protests across the UK.

The plan, signed in April 2022 by then-UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, proposed sending asylum seekers trying to enter the UK to Rwanda for resettlement.

The European Court of Human Rights stopped the first deportation flight to Rwanda at the last minute in June last year.

Tackling small boat crossings by irregular migrants across the British Channel is among five priorities of the British government, as more than 45,000 migrants arrived in the country that way last year.

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