Rwanda asylum plan ruled unlawful in major blow to Tory government

The Tory government has lost a legal challenge over its plan to send asylum seekers who arrive via unapproved routes to Rwanda or a third country.

After the High Court ruled the plan was lawful in December 2022, three judges in the Court of Appeal overturned the judgement on Thursday (29 June).

It is the latest ruling in a long-running legal battle over the scheme, which was announced in April 2022 and despite costing £120 million has thus far failed to send any refugees to Rwanda.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnet, who ruled on the case, said the central African nation is not a safe place for refugees to be housed whilst their asylum claims are processed.

The judge added there are “deficiencies” in Rwanda’s asylum system, which pose a “real risk” of asylum seekers being returned to their country of origin.

“The High Court’s decision that Rwanda was a safe third country is reversed, and unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum process are corrected, removal of asylum seekers will be unlawful,” he said.

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Campaigners have argued that Rwanda is unsafe for LGBTQ+ people, and that the entire plan is unworkable and incompatible with international law.

In response to the ruling, Yolande Makolo – spokesperson for Rwanda’s government – told the BBC that while the decision is one for the UK, she disagrees that Rwanda is unsafe.

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“Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world and we have been recognised by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees,” she told the broadcaster.

“We make a significant contribution to dealing with the impacts of the global migration crisis. Rwandans know what it means to be forced to flee home, and to make a new life in a new country.”

Makolo added: “As a society, and as a government, we have built a safe, secure, dignified environment, in which migrants and refugees have equal rights and opportunities as Rwandans.

“Everyone relocated here under this partnership will benefit from this.”

Rwanda asylum scheme ‘shames us as a nation’

Campaigners, politicians and refugee groups were quick to welcome the Rwanda appeal ruling.

Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, said the result from the Court of Appeal was “great to see”, adding: “Rwanda is not a safe place to send LGBTQ+ refugees”.

Writing on Twitter, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “Excellent news that Court of Appeal has ruled Braverman’s utterly inhumane, grotesquely immoral & totally unworkable Rwanda scheme to be illegal too – and in clear breach of human rights law. Time for an asylum policy which treats people with respect and dignity.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called the policy “callous and unworkable”, adding it “shames us as a nation”.

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Campaign group Freedom from Torture praised the ruling, stating: “We are delighted that the appeal verdict has affirmed what the caring people of this country already knew: the UK government’s ‘cash for humans’ deal with Rwanda is not only deeply immoral, it flies in the face of the laws of this country.”

Rainbow Migration, a charity which supports LGBTQ+ refugees, called the government’s Rwanda policy a “cruel plan”.

“We have repeatedly called out Rwanda as a country where #LGBTQI+ people are subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse,” the charity said.

The Peace & Justice Project, founded by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, wrote that the ruling is “a huge and significant victory for the many campaigning organisations who have stood up against this disgraceful policy.”

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