Major blow to Rishi Sunak's government as court rules Rwanda is not a safe country to send asylum seekers to.
The UK's Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the British government's proposed policy to move asylum seekers to Rwanda is unsafe, dealing a major blow to Rishi Sunak's government on one of its top policies.
Under the policy, which has been blocked for several years by legal challenges, people who have arrived in the UK from dangerous countries would be transported to Rwanda rather than allowing to claim asylum on British soil.
Aside from the controversy around the morality of deporting asylum seekers in itself, the policy met fierce criticism within the UK because of Rwanda's poor human rights record. As the president of the Supreme Court mentioned, it has been found by international bodies that asylum seekers and refugees deported there would face a real risk of human rights abuses.
In its verdict, the UK Supreme Court pointed out that the international evidence on Rwanda's record gave serious cause for concern about the integrity of the Rwandan asylum process, the independence of its judiciary and the trustworthiness of its guarantees given it has previously violated international human rights agreements to which it has committed.
The court also pointed to evidence that under a previous similar deal with Israel, asylum seekers sent to Rwanda by the Israeli government were clandestinely moved to a neighbouring country where they were at risk of "refoulement" – that is, being dispatched back to the countries they had fled.
"The changes needed to eliminate the risk of refoulement may be delivered in the future, but they have not been shown to be in place now," the court said in its verdict. "The Home Secretary's appeal is therefore dismissed."
The outcome of the Rwanda case is critically important to the future of Rishi Sunak's conservative government, which has put curbing illegal immigration and cutting the number of asylum claims at the centre of its pitch for the next election.
In recent days, Sunak has sacked his home secretary, Suella Braverman, an anti-immigration hardliner and enthusiastic advocate of the Rwanda policy, after her public statements lurched further towards the far right.
In response to her dismissal, Braverman penned an excoriating letter to Sunak that was published online, receiving millions of views.
In it, she accused him of failing to be prepared to face down the European Court of Human Rights and failing to have a Plan B to make sure flights could still take off somehow even if the Rwanda policy as written were blocked by the Supreme Court.
"I can only surmise that this is because you have no appetite for doing what is necessary, and therefore no real intention of fulfilling your pledge to the British people," she wrote.
Human rights NGOs have greeted the verdict enthusiastically. Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive at Freedom from Torture, said in a statement:
“This is a victory for reason and compassion. We are delighted that the Supreme Court has affirmed what caring people already knew: the UK Government’s ‘cash for humans’ deal with Rwanda is not only deeply immoral, but it also flies in the face of the laws of this country.
"Instead of devising inhumane policies that defy our legal and moral duties, the Government should focus on clearing the enormous asylum backlog, in which thousands of torture survivors are languishing, unable to recover or rebuild their lives."
Amnesty International UK's chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, had this to say:
"This judgment is vital to protect people seeking asylum in this county, but the Government must now draw a line under a disgraceful chapter in the UK’s political history. The deal with Rwanda – a country with a track record of serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, torture and the repression of free speech – was massively ill-conceived and cruel.
“It is 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."