The British government, led by Home Secretary James Cleverly, has signed a contentious treaty with Rwanda aimed at deporting asylum seekers, despite the UK’s Supreme Court deeming the deportation scheme illegal.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasized his commitment to halting illegal migration, highlighting the newly signed treaty with Rwanda as a critical measure in the government’s resolve to decide who enters the UK and the fight against human trafficking by criminal gangs.
“I said I would stop the boats. I meant it,” Sunak said Tuesday.
“We’ve signed a treaty with Rwanda making it clear that it’s us who decides who comes to this country – not criminal gangs.”
I said I would stop the boats. I meant it.
We've signed a treaty with Rwanda making it clear that it's us who decides who comes to this country – not criminal gangs. https://t.co/W4G5M5wgOW
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) December 5, 2023
The deportation strategy, central to the UK’s migration reduction plan, has faced significant controversy, particularly following the Supreme Court’s ruling that such actions would breach international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.
Seeking to address the court’s concerns, the UK has sought to renegotiate terms with Rwanda, aiming for a binding treaty ensuring asylum seekers sent there by Britain will not face expulsion—a move intended to allay the court’s apprehensions.
For Cleverly, who assumed the role of Home Secretary just three weeks ago, this development marks a pivotal moment under immense pressure from his party and the Prime Minister to deliver on a strategy significantly challenged in the courts.
Cleverly expressed Rwanda’s commitment to refugee rights, pointing to discussions surrounding the signing of the agreement and the collaboration in addressing the global issue of illegal migration.
The treaty’s purpose is to assure the Supreme Court that Rwanda will adhere to legal processes and not repatriate asylum seekers back to their countries of origin, potentially impacting the plan to redirect thousands of asylum seekers, who arrived in the UK without permission, to Rwanda as a deterrent to Channel crossings.
In exchange for this agreement, Rwanda has received an initial payment of £140 million ($180 million) with promises of additional funding for the accommodation and welfare of deported individuals.
About the treaty: Details are sketchy about the plan. However, details made available by Home Office officials, a primary focus of the treaty revolves around preventing “refoulement,” which refers to the act of returning asylum seekers to a country where they might face persecution. The intention behind addressing this issue is to address concerns raised by the Supreme Court’s findings.
This treaty aims to ensure that Rwanda does not repatriate migrants to their home country or another location after they have arrived from the UK. It proposes the establishment of a new appeals process within Rwanda’s high court to consider exceptional cases, such as situations where individuals under this scheme have committed crimes.
The appeals process would involve British and Commonwealth judges, in addition to Rwandan judges, presiding over the hearings. Ultimately, a decision would be reached regarding whether the asylum seeker remains in Rwanda or is sent back to the UK.
For the treaty to have international legal force, it must be ratified by both the UK and Rwandan parliaments.
While this treaty signals progress in Sunak’s immigration reforms, its implementation faces the significant hurdle of gaining approval from the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister on Monday unveiled a five-point plan to reduce legal migration, but he still faces the challenge of gaining parliamentary support should the Court reconsider its earlier ruling for the treaty’s approval.
The controversial approach raises ethical and legal questions, highlighting the complex intersection of immigration policy, human rights considerations, and international cooperation. The outcome of the ongoing legal and political processes will likely shape the future of asylum and migration policies in other countries.