With Rwanda deportation bill, U.K. evades human rights norms it established

LONDON — At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, British Foreign Minister David Cameron was asked whether his country should be embarrassed by its plan to ship asylum seekers to faraway Rwanda.

Critics, including 46 percent of lawmakers in the House of Commons, say the British government is pursuing extraordinary legislation that seeks not only to evade scrutiny by its own courts but skirt its obligations to international human rights statutes it helped write.

But Cameron, the former prime minister responsible for the Brexit referendum, declared the Rwanda plan a model for other Western countries to consider.

It is “quite unorthodox in some ways,” he said, but represents the “out-of-the-box thinking” necessary to break the “appalling” smuggling of people.

Late Wednesday, the House of Commons passed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bill declaring Rwanda a safe country for deportees — no matter that Britain’s Supreme Court has declared it unsafe. The legislation would allow the government to “disapply” sections of human rights law when it comes to Rwanda-related asylum claims.

U.K. top court rejects plan to deport migrants to Rwanda, in blow to Sunak

With 80 million displaced people in the world, many fleeing poverty and violence, Britain is far from alone in seeking to make illegal migration harder and move the asylum process “offshore.”

The question is whether it will get any deportation flights off the ground — and whether other countries will follow Britain’s lead.

What is Britain’s Rwanda policy?

The Rwanda plan is a bold — critics say unworkable, unlawful — proposal to deter people from crossing the English Channel in small rubber rafts by quickly sending those who land in Britain to Africa.

The plan was the brainchild of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who vowed to make good on his Brexit promise to “take back control” of Britain’s borders.

Johnson in April 2022 announced that migrants who met strict asylum criteria would be flown 4,000 miles to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be assessed. (Unaccompanied children would not be put on planes.)

Britain to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda to cut illegal sea crossings

Depending on the outcomes, the refugees might remain in Rwanda, or move on to third countries or be returned to their home countries.

They would never be given asylum in Britain.

How many migrants might be deported to Rwanda?

Johnson initially promised that “tens of thousands” of migrants could be sent to Rwanda.

Media reports now suggest 1,000 asylum seekers might be sent to Rwanda during the five-year trial period. So, a couple of hundred a year. Britain’s Home Office has sent letters to asylum seekers threatening their status.

Has anyone been sent to Rwanda?

What is stopping the flights?

The courts, so far. And the law, both domestic and international.

Britain’s High Court of Justice initially cleared the first flight for June 2022. But the European Court of Human Rights — which interprets the European Convention on Human Rights, which Britain helped draft and was among the first to ratify — stopped the flight just hours before it was scheduled to take off.

U.K. cancels flight to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after court challenges

The case swung back to Britain. The Court of Appeals ruled the plan unlawful. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom concurred in November.

Why is the Rwanda plan so controversial?

The Rwanda plan is the most controversial policy in Britain since the great battles of Brexit.

Legal scholars have described it — alternately — as bold, radical, reckless and quite extraordinary. London Major Sadiq Khan, a prominent voice in the Labour Party, on Wednesday called it “cruel, inhumane and unworkable, pursued by a weak government fixated on party interest rather than the national interest.” Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, has said, “This immoral policy shames Britain.” The U.N. refugee agency maintains that it is “not compatible with international refugee law.”

U.K. seeks to send migrants to Rwanda, an extreme plan others could copy

Human rights defenders say Britain seeks to go further than most other countries have gone, in that it would remove asylum seekers before seriously considering the merits of their cases.

The Supreme Court also took issue with the destination of Rwanda, finding “substantial grounds” that sending asylum seekers there “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment,” specifically that they could be returned to their countries of origin, where they could face persecution. (Rwanda denies this.)

But the British government hasn’t given up?

Sunak has promised to “stop the boats.” He and his Conservative Party face a tough national election this year. The thinking is that he needs to send a couple of flights to Rwanda to show that he has achieved at least something.

So in December, Sunak’s government did two things. It signed a new treaty with Rwanda, which provided for added safeguards, and it introduced new legislation asserting that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers.

What happened to the new legislation?

In the House of Commons, Sunak faced off against rebels in his own party, who complained that the bill was not tough enough and would continue to invite legal challenges. The hard-liners pushed for a string of amendments to make the bill more “bulletproof.” One amendment stated that British and international law cannot be used to “prevent or delay the removal to Rwanda of any individual.” Another sought to block interim injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights in the case of expulsions to Rwanda.

To dampen desire for those declarative amendments, Sunak’s government said it was informing civil servants to follow orders from their ministries and not be bound by temporary injunctions issued by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed through the House of Commons by a comfortable margin of 320 to 276 with no amendments Wednesday night, on its third reading.

The bill goes to the House of Lords, which could raise objections and send it back to the House of Commons. But oddsmakers say it is likely to become law.

Asylum seekers might still have some legal recourse, said Peter William Walsh, a senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, regarding claims that the individual faces “an imminent risk of serious irreversible harm” in Rwanda. Walsh cautioned that the route is narrow. A person would have to prove that Rwanda is dangerous — for the person individually — rather than focus on the prospect of being sent back to their own country.

The European Court of Human Rights might also get involved. Then Sunak would have to decide whether to confront a court and the international human rights laws his country helped create.

How many asylum seekers are coming by boat to Britain?

The government reports that 29,437 people crossed the English Channel last year.

Last weekend, four died trying.

A spokesman for the Home Office, which oversees the borders, said the government’s priority remains to stop the boats, “which is why we have taken robust action to crack down on vile people-smuggling gangs, deter migrants from making dangerous crossings and, alongside our French counterparts, intercept vessels.”

There is deep frustration that asylum seekers can spend years in Britain while their claims are adjudicated.

During the debate Wednesday night, Conservative Party lawmaker John Hayes said that mass migration is “perhaps the biggest existential crisis facing this country” and that the surge is having a “devastating effect on public services.” Hayes said the “vast majority” of people being smuggled across the channel are economic migrants.

How much is the Rwanda plan costing?

The Sunak government has paid Rwanda $300 million so far, with an additional $60 million due this year.

Citing government figures, the opposition Labour Party says sending refugees to Rwanda will cost $80,000 more than keeping them in Britain before they are either accepted or deported.

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top