'Not a safe country': Government's Rwanda plan ruled unlawful by Court of Appeal - but PM comes out fighting

29 June 2023, 10:15 | Updated: 29 June 2023, 14:26

Home Secretary Suella Braverman visiting Rwanda in March and right, Rishi Sunak, who wants the court's decision to be challenged
Home Secretary Suella Braverman visiting Rwanda in March and right, Rishi Sunak, who wants the court's decision to be challenged. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Asher McShane

Rwanda was deemed ‘not a safe third country’ by Court of Appeal judges today in a legal victory for asylum seekers and a charity over the Government's controversial plan.

After losing the latest stage of its legal battle over the controversial plan, the Government is now expected to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Judges found that Rwanda is not a 'safe country' to receive asylum seekers from the UK.

But the Prime Minister hit back saying he 'fundamentally disagrees' with the decision. Rishi Sunak said: "While I respect the court I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions.

"I strongly believe the Rwandan government has provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum-seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries – something that the Lord Chief Justice agrees with.

"Rwanda is a safe country. The High Court agreed. The UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda. We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

"The policy of this government is very simple, it is this country – and your government – who should decide who comes here, not criminal gangs. And I will do whatever is necessary to make that happen."

Rwanda’s government insisted it is ‘one of the safest countries in the world’ after the ruling.

Yolande Makolo, spokesperson for the government of Rwanda, said: “While this is ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system, we do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers and refugees.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman visits Bwiza Riverside Houses in Kigali
Home Secretary Suella Braverman visits Bwiza Riverside Houses in Kigali. Picture: Getty

Barrister says the Rwanda policy will be brought to The Supreme Court

"Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world and we have been recognised by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees."

The government lost the latest stage in the legal fight over the controversial policy in a split decision from judges.

The Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Underhill decided the policy is not lawful. However, the Lord Chief Justice agreed with the High Court's decision that Rwanda is a safe third country.

Read more: Boris Johnson allies Dorries and Rees-Mogg accused of 'disturbing' campaign to 'undermine' Partygate probe

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said: “The High Court’s decision that Rwanda is a safe third country is reversed. Unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected, removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.”

Today's decision reverses an earlier decision made by the High Court and means that the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful until changes are made to the asylum system there.

Not a single person has been sent to the east African nation under the £120m deal struck over a year ago, due to a series of legal challenges.

Lord Burnett said the court reached its conclusion based on the law and took "no view whatsoever" about the political merits of the policy.

He added: "The Court of Appeal makes clear that its decision implies no view whatever about the political merits or otherwise of the Rwanda policy.

"Those are entirely a matter for the Government, on which the court has nothing to say.

"The court's concern is only whether the policy complies with the law as laid down by Parliament."

“This judgment is very welcome, but it can’t undo the enormous suffering, harm and expense already caused by the Government’s long and reckless pursuit of a patently unjust scheme.

Amnesty International said in a statement: “This totally misguided bid to expel people seeking asylum thousands of miles away to Rwanda - a country with its own asylum and human rights challenges - was always an expensive and deeply cruel injustice.

“The Rwanda deal is a cynical distraction from the pressing need to radically reform our own chronically failing asylum procedures - which are slow, increasingly chaotic and leave thousands of people stranded in limbo for years."

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This verdict is some rare good news in an otherwise bleak landscape for human rights in the UK. Hopefully, it will be respected by the government and we can consign this cruel and inhumane proposal to the history books.

"The Home Secretary should now abandon this unworkable and unethical fever dream of a policy and focus her efforts on fixing our broken and neglected migration system.

"This verdict presents the Government with an opportunity to change course. Rather than treating human beings like cargo it can ship elsewhere, it should be focusing on ending the hostile environment towards refugees and asylum seekers."

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