In blow to Sunak, UK court rules Rwanda deportation plan unlawful

Judges say Rwanda cannot be considered a safe third country, after the scheme was heavily criticised by rights groups.

A British court has ruled that the government’s controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful as the African nation cannot be considered a safe third country.

In a major setback for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has pledged to deter people from arriving across the Channel in small boats, three Court of Appeal judges on Thursday said the “removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda” would be “unlawful”.

“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 or other inhumane treatment,” judge Ian Burnett said, but added that he, himself, disagreed with the other two judges on this point.

The United Kingdom government has been planning to deport asylum seekers to the East African country as part of a 120 million pound ($148m) deal to deter people from crossing the English Channel from France in small boats.

Asylum Aid director Alison Pickup said many of her clients were breathing a sigh of relief.“Some of them have experienced torture, they’ve had very traumatic journeys, and have been waiting for over a year to find out if they will be able to make a case in the UK – or if they will be sent to Rwanda, a country they know nothing about,” Pickup told Al Jazeera.

She added that the ruling will “hopefully give them that reassurance of safety”.

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Sunak under pressure

As well as fighting against criticism from his own right-wing party and the public on migrant and refugee arrivals, Sunak is dealing with stubbornly high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

Sunak made “stop the boats” one of his priorities and hopes a fall in arrivals might help his Conservative Party pull off a win at the next national election.

The Rwanda plan was announced in April last year, but the first deportation flight was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which imposed an injunction preventing any deportations until the conclusion of legal action in Britain.In December, the High Court ruled the policy was lawful, but that decision was challenged by asylum seekers from several countries, along with human rights organisations, who blasted the plan as “cruel”, “inhumane” and “neo-colonial”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman in April said Rwanda was a safe country for the resettlement of asylum seekers but declined to set any deadline for the first deportations there.

The government has put forward a series of bills aimed at curbing migration that have been strongly criticised by civil society.

In March, it proposed a contentious new law that would allow authorities to deport people arriving on its shores via small boats across the English Channel that divides the island from France.

Several charities and human rights groups criticised the plan – known as the Illegal Migration Bill – saying it criminalises the efforts of thousands of genuine refugees.

More than 45,000 people entered by crossing the channel in 2022, according to government figures – a jump of more than 17,000 from the previous year’s record.

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