The UK Supreme Court’s ruling declaring Rwanda scheme unlawful sparked immediate response from the government which is planning emergency legislation to circumvent it. The new home secretary, James Cleverly, reiterates his predecessor’s promises to “stop the boats”. Home Office expands the “safe” countries list and prevents Care4Calais from assisting asylum seekers in a reception centres.

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful. In doing so, the Court upholds the decision of the Court of Appeal and rejects the government’s challenge. The judgement is a blow to the government and also to former Home Secretaries Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, and PM Rishi Sunak, all champions of the scheme.   According to the Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and Rwanda, asylum seekers who arrive in the UK after crossing the Channel would be removed to  Rwanda where their asylum claims would be decided by the Rwandan authorities. In exchange, Rwanda would receive economic benefits based on the Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) between the  countries.

The Supreme Court does not accept that Rwanda is a safe country, arguing that flaws in the asylum system and the general human rights situation in the country – as recognised by the UK government itself – preclude removal. “This is because there are substantial grounds for believing that asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement to their country of origin if they were removed to Rwanda”, the Court’s summary explains. The Court draws heavily on the evidence provided by UNHCR and criticises the government’s reliance on the assurances of the Rwandan government, arguing that such assurances are insufficient – the facts on the ground need to be examined.

On the eve of the Court’s decision, the former home secretary, Braverman sent an “excoriating letter” to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, accusing him of “wishful thinking” for not taking the legislative measures to deliver on his migration pledges including the pledge to “Stop the Boats”. Braverman said that she had been “clear from day one” that Sunak should “block off” the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) – which stopped an earlier planned flight to Rwanda – from challenging the policy. Following the ruling, Sunak announced plans to bring an emergency legislation to end the “merry-go-round” of legal challenges facing the Rwanda scheme by setting out in law that the east African country is safe. Additional plans including rewriting the MoU with Rwanda as a formal international agreement containing “enforceable” commitments from Rwanda that it will not return people transferred to their countries of origin. Sunak underlined that his government “will take all the necessary steps to ensure that we can remove any further blockages to us getting this policy executed, and getting planes leaving as planned in the spring of next year.” Former Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption described the government’s plans in response to the ruling as “constitutionally extraordinary” and “profoundly discreditable”. He added that they were an effort to “change the facts by law”. The Bar Council of England and Wales also expressed its “grave concerns”.

Meanwhile, charities and refugees celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling. “I am very happy to not go to Rwanda! Maybe my dreams will come true to stay in the UK to work hard, to continue my business studies which I began in Sudan, and to hopefully see my family someday soon,” said Mahmoud Altigani, one of those who was set to be sent to Rwanda. ECRE member, the Refugee Council said that the ruling is a “victory for the rights of men, women and children who simply want to be safe. The plan goes against who we are as a country that stands up for those less fortunate than us and for the values of compassion, fairness and humanity” and urged the government to focus “on creating a functioning, fair and humane asylum system and expanding safe routes”. Amnesty UK in a press release stated the judgement is “vital” for the protection of the rights of asylum seekers in the country, adding “It’s now time for the Government and the new Home Secretary to not only abandon the idea of doing a deal with Rwanda, but to scrap the underlying policy of refusing to process people’s asylum claims and the Illegal Migration Act that has entrenched that dismal policy”. The organisation further stated “The idea that the UK should withdraw from the European Convention to pursue this failed policy is nonsensical and should be immediately binned. The Government should make policies which fit with the law, not fit the law around their policies”. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also welcomed the judgement and expressed its “deep concern” about the “externalization” of asylum obligations and the serious risks it poses for refugees while also recognising “the challenges presented by irregular arrivals across the Channel”, and calling for “practical, workable alternatives to the MEDP arrangement, including through cooperation with European neighbours in the spirit of responsibility-sharing which lies at the core of the Refugee Convention”.

Earlier in the week, Rishi Sunak appointed James Cleverly as home secretary after sacking Braverman over accusing Metropolitan Police chiefs of bias in their handling of the pro-Palestine protests. Sunak’s decision to hand Cleverly his second great office of state including an asylum system facing challenges, with 175,000 people waiting for an initial decision on their claim is meant to both  “repair relationship  s with senior police officers” and “reassure traditional hard-right supporters of Braverman that they still have influence over key policies on immigration and policing”. In his first comments, Cleverly appeared to be recycling the same slogans of “stop the boats” and “keep people in the country safe”. Refugee Action said that the new home secretary has an opportunity to make changes in the asylum system and encouraged him to welcome asylum seekers in an anti-racist and compassionate way, make safe routes available for those in need, ensure access to legal and psychological support and provide adequate accommodation options. RAMFEL in a press release stated that the sacking of the “awful home secretary” Suella Braverman “should of course be welcomed” for her “extreme cruelty with an obsessive determination to generate headlines rather than actual solutions to the UK’s beleaguered and creaking immigration and asylum system” adding “If the government seriously wants to improve the UK’s immigration system, it could do so”. The charity also noted “Braverman’s departure may help tone down the rhetoric, but until sensible, serious and most importantly humane steps are taken to create safe routes and fix the delays inherent in the asylum decision-making process, nothing substantive will change. With public attitudes clearly shifting though, a fairer and kinder asylum system would be good politics and unquestionably save lives”.

New figures obtained by POLITICO reveal that UK funds of £40.4 million given to the French authorities under the Sandhurst Treaty, aimed at reducing migrant channel crossings, have been spent on equipment ranging from high-tech surveillance gear to vacuum cleaners and phone chargers for cars. The money also was used to control the French-Italian border, 900 kilometers from the English Channel. The records also show that French police have stopped fewer than half of all migrants attempting to cross the English Channel since the deal was signed in 2018, prompting questions over the effectivity of such deals. While the French interior ministry refused to comment on the expenditure, it stressed the work to dismantle smuggling networks is ongoing underlining that 47 groups were broken up in 2022 and 28 so far in 2023. A home office spokesman also declined commenting on specific areas of spending but noted that “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system” while underlining that the home office’s priority to stop the boats in cooperation with French partners.

The British government is considering adding Iraq to the list of “safe” countries along with Egypt and Türkiye in an attempt to rapidly deport rejected asylum seekers after adding Georgia and India at the beginning of November. The Refugee Council has warned that more than half of those arriving from Iraq have been granted asylum and some commentators believe that the expansion of the list is a “backup” plan for the Rwanda deportation scheme. Thousands of refugees are expected to be homeless in Britain’s major cities after the government announced that asylum seekers have to leave their accommodation once their refugee status is clarified in an attempt to reduce refugee housing costs. “We have lost any sense of safety in the UK and have no clue where we will be moved to. I feel we have been treated worse than when we were asylum seekers,” Ali, a recognised refugee in the UK, said. “We had no time to prepare or plan to move, to sort out our finances or our belongings. We have less stability right now”, he added. Meanwhile, migration minister Robert Jenrick barred Care4Calais from offering help including legal assistance to asylum seekers staying in Napier barracks reception center over claims it encouraged asylum seeker ‘complaints’. Steve Smith, the chief executive of Care4Calais, said: “So ingrained has the government’s lawless proxy-war against refugees become that we have the immigration minister personally intervening to prevent a charity from distributing clothes to a group of asylum seekers for the unholy crime of said asylum seekers making complaints or speaking to the media”. “Why is Mr Jenrick so scared of asylum seekers having a voice to speak out about their treatment?”, he questioned. A Home Office source said it was not accurate to portray the barring of Care4Calais as an order by Jenrick, even though it was issued by his office, because the original idea was suggested by officials, who put it to Jenrick, and he agreed.

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