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UK Supreme Court rules against sending asylum seekers to Rwanda: landmark judgement upholds human rights

The UK Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, has unanimously ruled against the Home Secretary’s policy to send certain asylum seekers to Rwanda for claim processing. This policy, introduced under the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP), has been a subject of significant legal and political debate, with its legality questioned on multiple grounds.

The Supreme Court’s judgment, echoing the concerns raised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), found substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would face real risks of ill-treatment due to refoulement if removed to Rwanda. Refoulement, a core principle of international law, protects asylum seekers from being returned to a country where they might face threats to life or freedom. The court’s decision heavily references the evidence of Rwanda’s poor human rights record and systematic defects in its asylum process, which include concerns about legal representation, judicial independence, and high rejection rates of asylum claims from conflict zones.

The judgment scrutinized the legal basis for the Rwanda policy, outlined in paragraphs 345A to 345D of the Immigration Rules, and established under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971. The policy allowed treating an asylum claim as inadmissible if the claimant had not sought asylum in a safe third country when possible. Rwanda was deemed a safe third country based on the MEDP and assurances from the Rwandan government. However, the court highlighted the necessity of a fact-sensitive evaluation of such assurances, considering the human rights situation and the state’s past compliance.

The Supreme Court’s decision underscores the importance of adhering to international human rights standards and the rule of law in immigration policies. It sends a clear message about the UK’s obligations under various international treaties, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which have been incorporated into domestic law.

This judgment represents a significant setback for the Home Secretary’s approach to asylum policy and highlights the complexities and legal challenges inherent in managing international asylum claims. It reinforces the principle that while states have the right to control their borders, they must do so in a manner that respects international legal standards and the rights of individuals seeking refuge from persecution.

The decision’s implications extend beyond the immediate case, setting a precedent for future policies and legal challenges in the realm of asylum and immigration law. It serves as a reminder of the crucial role of the judiciary in upholding human rights and the rule of law, particularly in politically sensitive areas like immigration policy.

In conclusion, the UK Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling against the Rwanda asylum policy marks a pivotal moment in the nation’s legal history, reaffirming its commitment to international human rights standards and the protection of asylum seekers. The judgment not only overturns a controversial policy but also reinforces the importance of legal scrutiny and due process in the formulation and implementation of immigration laws.

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), said: “Today’s ruling by the UK Supreme Court marks a significant victory for human rights and the rule of law. As the Executive Director of AOAV, I welcome this decision, which reaffirms the UK’s commitment to international human rights standards and the protection of asylum seekers.”

“Having personally experienced the restrictions imposed by the Rwandan government on reporting critical human rights concerns, I am acutely aware of the challenges faced in bringing to light the realities on the ground. This judgment underscores the importance of transparency, accountability, and the upholding of human rights in all national and international policies. It is a reminder that governments must adhere to their international obligations and that the rights and safety of individuals seeking asylum should always be a priority.”