Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Dangerous UK-Rwanda asylum law erodes refugees’ protection: UN

If implemented, it would pave the way for asylum seekers, including families with children, to be summarily sent to Rwanda, with no prospect of return to the UK.

• April 23, 2024
REFUGEES IN UK; SUNAK
REFUGEES IN UK; SUNAK

Following the passage of the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill by the British Parliament, two UN leaders have again warned about its harmful impact on global responsibility-sharing, human rights, and refugee protection.

Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, and Volker Türk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called on the UK government to reconsider its plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda and instead take practical measures to address irregular flows of refugees and migrants, based on international cooperation and respect for international human rights law.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was tabled before the parliament alongside the UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Treaty after the UK’s Supreme Court found in 2023 that the proposed transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda would breach international and UK law, noting weaknesses in the Rwanda system for determining individual asylum claims, according to Messrs Grandi and Türk.

However, the bill and the treaty do not, in practice, overcome the protection gaps identified by the Supreme Court. Once enacted, they will restrict the UK courts from properly scrutinising removal decisions, leaving asylum seekers with limited room to appeal even if they face significant risks, the UN officials noted.

“The new legislation marks a further step away from the UK’s long tradition of providing refuge to those in need, in breach of the Refugee Convention,” said Mr Grandi. “Protecting refugees requires all countries – not just those neighbouring crisis zones – to uphold their obligations. This arrangement seeks to shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent.”

Mr Grandi said the UK parliament could “still take the right steps and put in place measures to help address the factors that drive people to leave home and share responsibility for those in need of protection with European and other international partners.”

Acknowledging the challenges presented by the irregular movement of refugees and migrants, often in dangerous circumstances, the UN representatives nonetheless expressed grave concern that the legislation would facilitate transfers under the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership with limited consideration of their circumstances or any protection risks.

Messrs Grandi and Türk called on the UK to pursue practical cooperation with countries along the routes refugees and migrants take to strengthen protection and offer real alternatives, including expanding safe and regular pathways to protection.

“By shifting responsibility for refugees, reducing the UK’s courts’ ability to scrutinise removal decisions, restricting access to legal remedies in the UK and limiting the scope of domestic and international human rights protections for a specific group of people, this new legislation seriously hinders the rule of law in the UK and sets a perilous precedent globally,” said Mr Türk.

The new legislation is the third in a series of progressively restrictive UK laws that have eroded access to refugee protection in the UK since 2022, including through a ban on access to asylum or other forms of permission to stay in the UK for those arriving irregularly via a third country.

If implemented, it would pave the way for asylum seekers, including families with children, to be summarily sent to Rwanda to present their asylum claims, with no prospect of return to the UK.

It will also drastically limit asylum seekers’ ability to challenge or appeal removal decisions, with decision-makers and judges required to conclusively treat Rwanda as a “safe” country in terms of protecting asylum seekers – regardless of any evidence to the contrary, now or in the future.

“This situation is even more concerning given the legislation expressly authorises the government to disregard any protective interim remedies from the European Court of Human Rights,” said the UN’s human rights and refugees agencies.

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