UK Judiciary okays “unethical” Rwanda refugee policy 

June 15, 2022 - 12:15

The Court of Appeal in London has given the green light for the British government to start the first flight for asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda in a controversial immigration policy that has drawn the wrath of the United Nations, rights organizations and the Church of England.

Judge Rabinder Singh said the Court of Appeal could not interfere with the original "clear and detailed" judgment and refused permission for any further appeal. A full hearing to determine the legality of the policy in its entirety is expected to take place next month. 

The Court of Appeal also dismissed a second separate challenge from Asylum Aid, a refugee charity, which hoped to stop the new government policy, which Downing Street alleges will deter refugees from crossing the English Channel on small boats. 

Charlotte Kilroy, a lawyer representing Asylum Aid, argued asylum seekers were not given enough time to challenge their deportation, noting there was a high risk of unlawful and unsafe decisions made. 

The second challenge was heard by judge Jonathan Swift who claimed everyone on the flight had been given legal access to a lawyer to contest their deportation on an individual basis. 

Initially, around 37 asylum seekers were set to be deported on the first flight to Rwanda, but according to the charity Care4Calais, that number has now fallen, in the face of individual legal challenges. 

Other reports say that as the Court of Appeal verdict was made the number of asylum seekers scheduled to leave the plane was less than a dozen with one report putting the figure at seven. 

The government has not provided any details about those selected for the first deportation flight to the Rwandan capital Kigali. Reports in the British press say the flight will cost more than half a million pounds sterling. 

Nevertheless, the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says she expects the flight to take off imminently regardless of the number of people on board. 

She told British media "I can't say exactly how many people will be on the flight. But the really important thing is that we establish the principle."

“There will be people on this flight and if they're not on this flight, they will be on the next flight,” she added. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that Rwanda does not have the capacity to process the claims. 

After the appeal to halt the deportations brought by refugee charities and a trade union which called it “immoral, dangerous and counter-productive” was defeated by the Court of Appeal, the UN refugee chief hit out saying the deportation policy was “all wrong”.

Filippo Grandi told reporters “we believe that this is all wrong... for so many reasons,” as a planeload of some asylum-seeking claimants was expected to take off in one-way flights.

Grandi pointed out he also wanted to end dangerous journeys by refugees, but reiterated the UNHCR's position that exporting asylum seekers was not the way to address the issue.

"The UK says... we do this to save people from dangerous journeys. Let me doubt that a little bit," he said.

"Saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it?" he asked. "I don't think so."

The UN agency has expressed concerns about the legal process in Rwanda and potential discrimination against claimants. 

Britain with its advanced structures and large resources should not be "exporting its responsibility to another country," Grandi said.

He said Rwanda had been "quite good to refugees", having taken in and dealt efficiently with tens of thousands from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

But he stressed that its structures and resources were vastly different from those that existed in Britain, and that Rwanda was not equipped to adopt the UK system for refugee status determination. That "is a completely different ballgame," he said. 

The UN refugee chief also warned that the UK decision will provide a poor example that other countries might follow, with disastrous effect.

He highlighted that there are many countries in Africa and elsewhere that are far poorer than Britain hosting hundreds of thousands and even millions of refugees.

"What am I going to tell them if they say a rich country like the UK, they are sending them abroad, I will do the same. I close my border... and they can go to another country? The precedent that this creates is catastrophic." he added. 

Rwandan opposition parties have also denounced the deal as "unrealistic and unsustainable," calling on their government to focus on their country’s domestic problems before dealing with issues of other nations.

The most senior cleric in the Church of England, Archbishop Justin Welby, was also among the high-profile critics of UK PM Johnson's plans. 

Welby earlier stated that "a country like Britain informed by Christian values cannot sub-contract out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda,”

Following the Court of Appeal’s verdict, he and the entire leadership of the Church of England published a letter saying “this policy should shame us as a nation. The shame is our own, because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice”

The main opposition Labour Party described the policy as “unethical” while the Scottish National Party condemned the move, saying “this cash-for-deportations policy is akin to state-sponsored trafficking and transportation.”

Activists believe that the flight could take off from either Stansted airport or the Royal Air Force base of Lyneham. A foreign airline has reportedly agreed to undertake the first deportation flight on behalf of the British Home Office.

Measuring just 26,338 square kilometers (10,169 square miles) in size, Rwanda is a landlocked nation and the fourth-smallest country in the African continent. 

On April 14, the two countries made headlines when they announced the controversial and rather bizarre policy that asylum seekers arriving in the UK would be sent some 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) away to Rwanda. There, Rwandan authorities would be in charge of processing their asylum claims, and, if successful, they would be allowed to live in Rwanda or deported to their country of origin. 

The government claims the new deportation strategy will deter asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel in small boats from Europe to reach the British border.

But some 160 charities and Human rights groups say the policy is inhumane and will put refugees at risk. Human Rights Watch says “the government continues to embrace a policy of cruelty.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have not submitted to the pressure and criticism, insisting the policy is needed. Earlier Johnson said the government was determined to press ahead with the policy regardless of the legal challenges and strong opposition.

Despite the government claiming the deportation plan would deter the refugees crossing the English Channel that separates Britains southern border from Europe, according to government figures, more than 3,500 people have reached Britain in small boats since the middle of April when the Rwanda scheme was unveiled. 

In another indication that the policy will not work as the government wishes or deter refugees from seeking asylum in the UK; while the court hearings were taking place about 35 refugees arrived in the British port city of Dover off the English Channel, some carrying their possessions in bags, where they were taken away by British border officials.

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