In a significant setback for the Rishi Sunak administration, the UK Supreme Court has unanimously declared the government’s plan to deport specific asylum seekers to Rwanda during case processing as unlawful. The Supreme Court, aligning with a June decision by the Court of Appeal, cited concerns about the possibility of ‘refoulment,’ wherein genuine refugees might be sent back to unsafe conditions in their countries of origin.
Justice Robert Reed, President of the UK Supreme Court, stated that “there are significant reasons to believe in a genuine risk of refoulment” and highlighted “serious and systematic defects” in Rwanda’s asylum claims processing. While Justice Reed acknowledged the potential for future improvements in the Rwandan system to mitigate these risks, he emphasized that such changes are currently not implemented.
This marks the second setback this week for ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman, dismissed by Mr. Sunak on Monday. Braverman, born to Indian-origin migrants from Africa, had expressed her aspiration in October 2022 to witness a flight to Rwanda, but the initial attempt in June 2022 was halted by the European Court of Human Rights, preventing the deportation of seven individuals.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court emphasized that its decision was a legal, not political one. It stated that the current execution of the Rwanda policy would violate both the European Convention on Human Rights and various United Nations treaties. The initiative, conceived by the former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to address migrants arriving via “small boats” across the English Channel, reflects the Conservative government’s commitment to curbing illegal migration and reducing net migration numbers. The government had allocated £140m to the Rwandan government for this scheme.
After being sent to Rwanda, asylum seekers had the options of returning to their home countries, staying in Rwanda, or applying for asylum in a country other than the U.K. Notably, the government is actively working to include India in a “safe country” list, streamlining the removal process for its citizens who enter the U.K. illegally. In 2022, a total of 683 Indians arrived via illegal Channel crossings, making them the third-largest group of asylum seekers in the U.K. using information from the initial half of the year.
In response to the verdict, Mr. Sunak asserted the government’s commitment to preventing illegal migration, noting the court didn’t deem it inherently unlawful to send migrants to a safe third country. He suggested exploring alternative countries for this purpose. Mr. Sunak expressed readiness to reconsider domestic legal frameworks if necessary. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called for a serious government to address the asylum system and pledged to ensure secure borders if elected.