Today, the United Kingdom’s highest court found that Rwanda is not a safe third country for the government to send asylum seekers. This is a huge victory that will protect the rights of countless people who have come to the UK seeking safety.
In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that there are substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers removed to Rwanda would face a real risk of being returned to their home country where they could face ill-treatment, known as refoulement. This would put the UK in breach of its obligations of nonrefoulement under international and domestic law.
This decision vindicates what many have already said: The deal is not only cruel but unlawful.
The Supreme Court drew attention to Rwanda’s poor human rights record, including threats to Rwandans living in the UK, alongside extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances, torture, and restrictions on media and political freedoms.
When the agreement between the UK and Rwanda was announced in 2022, Human Rights Watch wrote to the UK Home Secretary, expressing that Rwanda could not be considered a safe third country given ongoing human rights violations.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave damning evidence of systemic defects in Rwanda’s asylum system, the potential lack of independence of the judiciary and lawyers, and the 100 percent rejection rate for people from conflict zones, namely Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen – likely countries of origin of asylum seekers transferred from the UK. The UNHCR also presented at least 100 allegations of refoulement, a practice that continued after the UK agreement was concluded.
While the court accepted the government’s argument that Rwanda had incentives to uphold the agreement and that monitoring arrangements provided a further safeguard, the court stated that “intentions and aspirations do not necessarily correspond to reality.” The court found Rwanda does not have the practical ability to properly determine asylum claims and protect people from refoulement.
The prime minister has now vowed to introduce emergency legislation “to confirm Rwanda is safe.” However, the UK cannot legislate away facts or its international obligations.
The UK government should abandon its unlawful Rwanda deal and not pursue similar agreements. This should be a warning to other governments considering externalizing and shifting their asylum responsibilities onto other countries. The UK should also scrap its recent Illegal Migration Act and instead create a functioning and fair asylum system that treats people with compassion and allows them to find refuge in the UK.