Britain’s High Court said on Wednesday that the government’s plan to send some of the migrants arriving in the country to Rwanda is illegal. The decision is seen as a blow to the main policy of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government that has prompted international criticism.
Five members of the country’s highest court ruled unanimously that the asylum seekers who were to be sent to Rwanda were exposed to a “real risk of ill-treatment” and that they could be returned to their countries.
But despite the decision, British Prime Minister Sunak said today that he will continue with efforts to send some immigrants to Rwanda.
Mr Sunak, who has pledged to stop migrants entering Britain in small boats through the English Channel, said the decision was not the result he expected. But he added that his government had considered all possible scenarios and remained fully committed to stopping the boats.
Refugee and human rights groups welcomed the decision. The British charity ActionAid, which helps women and girls in poor countries, said the decision was a victory for “British human values and dignity”.
The organization “Amnesty International” asked the British government “to give up a shameful chapter in the political history of Britain”, as it considered.
In April 2022, Britain and Rwanda signed an agreement to send a number of migrants who had arrived in Britain hidden in vehicles or by boat to the East African country, where their asylum claims would be processed and if the response was positive, they would stay.
Britain’s government said the plan was aimed at stopping migrants risking their lives crossing one of the world’s busiest transport corridors and would deal a blow to people-trafficking gangs. Opposition politicians, refugee groups and human rights organizations say the plan was unethical and unworkable.
So far, no migrants have been sent to Rwanda yet, after the plan was challenged in the courts.
Reading the court’s unanimous decision, its president, Robert Reed, said there was no guarantee Rwanda would keep its promise not to mistreat asylum seekers.
He cited the country’s problematic human rights record, including cases of disappearances and torture, adding that Rwanda practiced returning migrants to unsafe countries.
The judges concluded that there were “grounds to believe that the asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment if they were sent to Rwanda”.
The British government has said that although Rwanda was the site of a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 1994, the country has since built a reputation for stability and economic progress.
The court’s ruling noted numerous human rights violations, including politically motivated killings, that had prompted British police “to warn individuals of Rwandan origin living in Britain of credible plans to kill them from the side of that state”.
They said data shows Rwanda has rejected asylum seekers from war-torn countries, including those from Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, 100 percent of the time.
The decision deals a blow to a policy that has cost the British government at least $175 million in payments to Rwanda, while not a single immigrant has been sent there. The first flight with immigrants was stopped at the last minute, in June 2022, after the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights.
In December, the High Court in London ruled that Rwanda’s plan is legal, but that the government must consider the individual circumstances of each case before putting someone on a plane.
It remains unclear whether the British government will try to keep this policy alive. Some UK conservatives have called for radical action in this regard. Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was sacked by Prime Minister Sunak on Monday, has said Britain should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and its court if the so-called Rwanda plan is blocked.
Much of Europe and the United States are struggling to identify the best solutions to deal with immigrants fleeing war, violence and oppression in their own countries.
Although Britain receives fewer asylum applications than countries such as Italy, France or Germany, thousands of migrants from all over the world travel every year in the hope of crossing the English Channel.
More than 27,300 migrants have crossed the channel this year compared to 46,000 last year. The government says this shows its tough approach has worked. But others cite factors such as bad weather as the reason for this drop in the number of immigrants.