Understanding the Rwanda Bill: An In-depth Analysis of the Controversial Policy and its Future Implications

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In 2022, after a surge in migrants crossing the English Channel to reach the UK, then-prime minister Boris Johnson announced a plan to send certain asylum seekers to Rwanda in East Africa. The plan, designed to deter illegal immigration, was to have Rwanda’s government assess the asylum claims, with successful applicants receiving refuge in Rwanda instead of the UK.

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The first deportation flight, scheduled for June 2022, was canceled at the last minute due to a ruling by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. A year later, the UK Court of Appeal deemed the policy unlawful, stating that Rwanda wasn’t a safe destination. The UK Supreme Court upheld this ruling, indicating the risk of genuine refugees being sent back to countries where they could face persecution.

In response, the UK government proposed the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which compels judges to view Rwanda as a “safe” country, disallowing sections of the Human Rights Act and international law. The bill aims to block further legal challenges and grants ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions. Despite resistance from the House of Lords, the government appears determined to push the bill through.

Under the proposed legislation, asylum seekers would still be able to challenge deportation based on individual circumstances, such as severe health conditions or being a victim of torture. However, they wouldn’t be able to challenge deportation on the grounds that Rwanda, as a whole, presents a risk of “refoulement” (returning asylum seekers to countries where they face persecution).

The bill’s proponents emphasize national sovereignty and the need to “stop the boats,” a phrase that gained traction after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared it a key priority. However, critics highlight the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Convention, which assert that refugees should not be sent back to places where they face serious threats.

In February, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights described the proposed Rwanda law as “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations, potentially breaching international law.

The House of Lords has introduced amendments to the bill, aiming to ensure that domestic courts have jurisdiction over the safety of Rwanda, thereby enabling judges to intervene. The amendments also include a requirement for Rwanda’s safety to be independently verified before deportations can proceed. Additionally, the Lords voted that individuals who worked with UK military or government overseas should be exempt from removal.

Despite these amendments, the legislation is likely to be passed soon. The government maintains that deportation flights could commence in the spring, with Prime Minister Sunak repeatedly stressing this point. Yet, the European Court of Human Rights might still present an obstacle if it orders the flights to be blocked, as it did previously, potentially throwing the government’s plans into disarray.

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