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UK court rules Rwanda migrant deportations are unlawful

June 29, 2023

The government's plan — endorsed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — to send asylum-seekers to East Africa had been previously ruled lawful, but met with challenges from human rights organizations.

A plan at Boscombe Down airpot in the UK ready to take migrants to Rwanda
The UK government has lost its attempt to block an appeal that may stop deportations to RwandaImage: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Three judges at the Court of Appeal in London ruled on Thursday that the UK government's plan to deport migrants to Rwanda was unlawful as it cannot be treated as a safe third country.

The ruling is a blow to the Conservative government and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who had backed the controversial plan as a way to reduce the number of people arriving in the country on small boats.

What judges said about deportations to Rwanda

One of the judges, Ian Burnett, said that "the deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda are such that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries where they face persecution and other inhumane treatment."

The majority of judges agreed that the deportation would remain unlawful, unless "deficiencies"  in Rwanda could be corrected.

The UK government said it planned to appeal to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime, deportations to Rwanda will not be able to go ahead.

"Rwanda remains fully committed to making this partnership work," government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo told AFP. "While this is ultimately a decision for the UK's judicial system, we do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum-seekers and refugees."

What this means for the UK's deportation plans

The UK government wants to send thousands of asylum-seekers — people who are requesting shelter or protection in a foreign country — to the small East African country, some 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) from the UK.

Sunak has pledged to stop the arrival of migrants from across the English Channel, making it one of the top five priorities of his government as the country battles inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

So far no one has yet been deported to Rwanda, but the UK has already paid 140 million pounds ($170 million; €162 million) as part of the deal.

The first attempt to deport people to Rwanda was planned to take place a year ago but was blocked by a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) — which is not part of the European Union.

The UK's High Court ruled in favor of the government in December, but this decision was appealed by a group of human rights organizations and asylum-seekers from different countries. Thursday's ruling is the result of this challenge.

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman has argued that Rwanda is indeed a safe third country, telling the BBC that Rwanda has "a track record of successfully resettling and integrating people who are refugees or asylum-seekers."

ab/dj (Reuters, AFP, AP)