Rwanda: Home Office in court over migrant deportations as lawyers argue plan is unsafe and unfair for refugees

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Lawyers told the Court of Appeal that Rwanda is “an authoritarian one-party state” which “imprisons, tortures, and murders those it considers its opponents.”

Rwanda is not a safe third country, the Court of Appeal has been told, as the UK Government faces legal challenges over its plans to deport refugees to the nation in east Africa.

Barrister Raza Husain KC, representing six men who have been selected to be sent to Rwanda from the UK, claimed the country is “an authoritarian one-party state” which “imprisons, tortures, and murders those it considers its opponents.” He argued that Rwanda perpetuates “police violence” and “legal repression” - and that these risks had not been properly examined when the High Court initially ruled that the policy was lawful.

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In December, the High Court decided that the Home Office’s plan to deport thousands of migrants deemed to have arrived in the UK ‘illegally’ to Rwanda was “lawful”, with judges concluding that this proposed “relocation” was consistent with the Human Rights Act. However, that decision is being challenged by asylum seekers from countries including Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, alongside various refugee and human rights organisations.

One of the arguments given on Monday (24 April) against the deportation scheme was that judges had shown “excessive deference” to the Home Office’s view of promises made by the government in Rwanda - namely, the promise that asylum seekers sent there would be protected from ill-treatment.

Mr Husain said: “The court showed excessive deference to the Home Office’s own assessment of the assurances [made by Rwanda], by proceeding on the basis that it should not ‘go behind’ that assessment without ‘compelling evidence to the contrary’.”

Protesters hold placards as they gather outside the Home Office in central London on June 13, 2022, to demonstrate against the UK Government’s intention to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. Credit: Getty ImagesProtesters hold placards as they gather outside the Home Office in central London on June 13, 2022, to demonstrate against the UK Government’s intention to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. Credit: Getty Images
Protesters hold placards as they gather outside the Home Office in central London on June 13, 2022, to demonstrate against the UK Government’s intention to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

He argued that by adopting this approach, the High Court had “failed to scrutinise” the Home Office’s viewpoint - essentially relying on ministers’ understanding of the situation. This meant, he argued, that the court had not independently considered whether the assurances made by Rwanda “provide a sufficient guarantee to protect relocated asylum seekers” from a risk of mistreatment.

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Commenting on the material provided by authorities in Rwanda, Mr Husain said it “lacked credibility”, consisted of “blanket denials and clear contradictions”, and was “partisan”. He also argued that the High Court had not properly investigated the outcome of a similar refugee deal Rwanda had with Israel, which operated from 2013 to 2018.

The Court of Appeal heard that refugees sent from Tel Aviv were detained without the opportunity of claiming asylum, often justified on the grounds of “security concerns” - and then arrested for not having the proper documentation. Some asylum seekers subsequently disappeared, others were smuggled to Uganda, and a number died while fleeing Rwanda and attempting to reach Libya.

Mr Husain concluded that “all these features should have been, but were not, considered by the court in assessing the evidence.”

In December, the High Court found: “There is no evidence that during its negotiations with the Rwandan government, the United Kingdom government sought to investigate either the terms of the Rwanda/Israel agreement or the way it had worked in practice.”

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Judges found this did not amount to an “error of law” but the Court of Appeal was told on Monday (24 April) that they had made a mistake - and that the Home Office was legally required to investigate past agreements before implementing its plan with Rwanda.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman meets Rwandan President Paul Kagame at his office in Kigali during her visit to Rwanda. Picture date: Sunday March 19, 2023. Credit: PAHome Secretary Suella Braverman meets Rwandan President Paul Kagame at his office in Kigali during her visit to Rwanda. Picture date: Sunday March 19, 2023. Credit: PA
Home Secretary Suella Braverman meets Rwandan President Paul Kagame at his office in Kigali during her visit to Rwanda. Picture date: Sunday March 19, 2023. Credit: PA | PA

Meanwhile, Lord Pannick KC, for the Home Office, argued in written submissions that there were “clear and compelling reasons” why the UK believed Rwanda would comply with its promises. He said the Rwandan Government has “indicated a clear willingness to co-operate with international monitoring mechanisms”, and claimed there are “reciprocal obligations with strong incentives for compliance”.

Lord Pannick also argued that the previous arrangement between Israel and Rwanda was “irrelevant to the up-to-date assessment of the accessibility and functioning of Rwanda’s asylum system”, and involved “very different” financial arrangements.

The plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, alongside the Illegal Migration Bill – which is due to return to the House Commons on Wednesday (26 April) – are both part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s and Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s committment to “stopping the boats”.

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The Home Office is also looking for ways to deal with the increasing number of asylum seekers currently situated in the UK, but is facing a legal challenge over its plans here too - with Braintree District Council in Essex taking the Home Office to court over its proposed use of RAF Wethersfield Airfield to house asylum seekers.

The hearing at the Court of Appeal before the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill is expected to conclude on Thursday (27 April) - with a decision at a later date.

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