Is the Rwanda deportation policy legal? UK High Court to deliver a judgment after a five-day judicial review


In April 2022, a five-year asylum partnership was reached between the UK and Rwanda, which allows the UK to send asylum seekers and anyone that enters the country illegally, to Rwanda, for processing, asylum, and resettlement. It was agreed between the countries that Rwanda would process the asylum claims and settle or remove (as appropriate) individuals after their claim was decided, in accordance with the Rwanda domestic law.

In return, the UK government paid £120 million towards Rwanda’s economic growth and development.  According to reports, a further £20 million was recently paid towards the cost of processing the asylum applications, despite the policy being grounded following legal challenges. It is understood that these payments will not be refunded if the policy is ruled illegal and/or later scrapped.

The inaugural flight to Rwanda was cancelled in June 2022 after the European Court of the Human Rights (ECtHR) found that asylum seekers would not be afforded ‘fair’ and ‘efficient’ procedures for determination of their asylum claims. The government have not yet been successful in seeing off a plane to Rwanda.

Refugee charities Asylum Aid, Care4Calais, Detention Action, and the Public and Commercial Services (‘the challengers’) joined forces to legally challenge the Rwanda Policy by way of a judicial review, which was heard by the UK High Court in September of this year. A judicial review is where the court considers the lawfulness of a decision, or an action taken by a public body.

There were three headline arguments presented to the court by the challengers. Firstly, that the policy is in breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the refoulement principle, which says that a refugee must not be returned to a country where they face serious threat to their life or freedom. Secondly, that Rwanda is not a safe country, and thirdly, with reference to individual asylum cases, challengers argued that there was a risk of breach of Article 3 rights, which protects against torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, or punishment.

The High Court heard evidence from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHR) who were permitted to intervene. They pointed out that they were not told about the arrangement initially, despite their ‘expertise’ and asked for the policy to be scrapped as it presented a ‘serious risk’ of human rights abuses. They also argued that Rwanda is generally not a safe country due to the widespread mock execution, asphyxiation, and electric shocks.

The UNHR also referred to their verdict on the Israel- Rwanda Immigration policy from 2014-2018, where Eritrean and Sudanese refugees in Israel were sent to Rwanda. They argued that the agreement was incompatible with the principle of refoulement and provided evidence to the court to show that migrants who were sent from Israel were penalised for their methods of arrival and were threatened to be stripped of their entitled protections as asylum seekers.

Their travel documents were confiscated by the authorities in Rwanda and asylum seekers were transferred to Uganda, where they then had to make dangerous onward journeys through Libya, Sudan, and South Sudan.  Later interviews showed that the migrants were subjected to torture, abuse, and human trafficking during these onward journeys.

The UK High Court was shown documents demonstrating that Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda, was initially taken off a shortlist of possible deportation locations by the UK government and had been added to a list of countries which were considered to have ‘substantial issues in relation to asylum systems and human rights and/or political negotiability’. Rwanda was only considered due to Priti Patel and Boris Johnson’s insistence.

Raza Hussain KC of Matrix Chambers, acting for the challengers, further submitted that “Rwanda is a one-party authoritarian state that does not tolerate political opposition. It is a regime that repeatedly imprisons, tortures, and murders those it thinks is its political opponents.”

The challengers also argued that individuals have very little time in which to arrange legal representation and challenge their deportation to Rwanda. According to the rules, only 7 days are allowed, if detained, or otherwise 14 days, for individuals to present their arguments as to why they should not be deported to Rwanda. If their arguments fail, then they only have five working days to appeal through court. The Notice of Intent or guidance by the Home Office does not inform them that they can ask for more time if they need it.

There were some shocking revelations in the High Court about the UK-Rwanda deportation policy. It is understood that a judgment can be expected in a matter of weeks which will set the tone for UK’s immigration policy.

This article is intended for guidance only and ‘must not’ be relied upon for specific advice.

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