Posted on June 30, 2023

UK Government Vows to Challenge Court Ruling That Its Plan to Send Migrants to Rwanda Is Unlawful

Jill Lawless, Associated Press, June 29, 2023

A British court ruled Thursday that a U.K. government plan to send asylum-seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda is unlawful, delivering a blow to the Conservative administration’s pledge to stop migrants making risky journeys across the English Channel.

In a split two-to-one ruling, three Court of Appeal judges said Rwanda could not be considered a “safe third country” where migrants from any country could be sent.

But the judges said that a policy of deporting asylum seekers to another country deemed safe was not in itself illegal, and the government said it would challenge the ruling at the U.K. Supreme Court. It has until July 6 to lodge an appeal.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that “while I respect the court I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions.”


The U.K. and Rwandan governments agreed more than a year ago that some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats would be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. Those granted asylum would stay in the East African country rather than return to Britain.

The U.K. government argues that the policy will smash the business model of criminal gangs that ferry migrants on hazardous journeys across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is known for her hardline rhetoric about migrants, said after the ruling that the existing asylum system “incentivizes mass flows of economic migration into Europe, lining the pockets of people smugglers and turning our seas into graveyards, all in the name of a phony humanitarianism.”


Britain has already paid Rwanda 140 million pounds ($170 million) under the deal, but no one has yet been deported there.

Britain’s High Court ruled in December that the policy is legal and doesn’t breach Britain’s obligations under the U.N. Refugee Convention or other international agreements.

But the court allowed a group of claimants, who include asylum-seekers from Iraq, Iran and Syria facing deportation under the government plan, to challenge that decision on issues including whether the plan is “systemically unfair” and whether asylum-seekers would be safe in Rwanda.

In a partial victory for the government, the appeals court ruled Thursday that the U.K.’s international obligations did not rule out removing asylum-seekers to a safe third country.

But two of the three ruled Rwanda was not safe because its asylum system had “serious deficiencies.” They said asylum seekers “would face a real risk of being returned to their countries of origin,” where they could be mistreated.


Refugee law expert David Cantor said the ruling would “send a ripple effect more widely through this idea of sending asylum seekers to third countries.”