LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the government’s controversial decision plan to send some migrants one-way to Rwanda is illegal, dealing a blow to a key policy of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government that has attracted international attention and criticism.
Five judges on the country’s highest court ruled unanimously that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda face “a real risk of mistreatment” because they could be returned to the country of origin they fled.
Sunak, who has pledged to stop migrants reaching Britain on small boats crossing the English Channel, said the decision “was not the outcome we wanted”.
But he added: “We have spent the last few months planning for all contingencies and we remain fully committed to stopping the boats.”
Refugee and human rights groups welcomed the move. The charity ActionAid UK called it a vindication of “British values of compassion and dignity”. Amnesty International has urged the British government to “draw a line under a shameful chapter in the UK’s political history”.
Britain and Rwanda signed an agreement in April 2022 to send some migrants arriving in the UK as stowaways or on boats to the East African country, where their asylum applications would be processed and, if successful, they would stay .
The British government argued that Rwanda’s policy would deter people from risking their lives crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and break the business model of smuggling gangs. Opposition politicians, refugee groups and human rights organizations said the plan was unethical and unworkable.
No one has yet been returned to the country, as the project has been challenged in court.
Reading the unanimous decision, Chief Justice Robert Reed said Rwanda could not be counted on to keep its promises not to mistreat asylum seekers sent from Britain.
He cited the country’s poor human rights record, including forced disappearances and torture, and said Rwanda practiced “refoulement” – sending migrants back to dangerous countries of origin.
The judges concluded that there were “substantial grounds to believe that the asylum seekers would face a real risk of ill-treatment due to refoulement if returned to Rwanda”.
The British government has argued that although Rwanda was the scene of a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 1994, the country has since built a reputation for stability and economic progress.
Critics say stability comes at the cost of political repression. The court’s judgment noted multiple rights violations, including political assassinations that led British police “to warn Rwandan nationals living in Britain of credible plans to murder by that state.” They said Rwanda had a 100% rejection rate of asylum seekers from war-torn countries including Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
“The evidence establishes substantial grounds to believe that there is a real risk that asylum applications will not be properly considered and that asylum seekers may therefore be at risk of being returned directly or indirectly to their country of origin. ‘origin,’ the judges said. . “In this case, genuine refugees will face a real risk of mistreatment in circumstances where they should not have been returned at all. »
The move leaves in tatters a policy that cost the British government at least 140 million pounds ($175 million) in payments to Rwanda, with no one sent to that country. The first deportation flight was stopped at the last minute in June 2022, when the European Court of Human Rights intervened.
In December, the High Court in London ruled that Rwanda’s plan was legalbut that the government must take into account the individual circumstances of each case before putting anyone on a plane.
Court of Appeal in June, supported a protest launched by asylum seekers from countries including Syria, Vietnam and Iran. The court ruled that the project was illegal because Rwanda is not a “safe third country”.
The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court by the government, which said at a hearing last month that it had carefully assessed the risks and would ensure that the Rwandan government respected its agreement to protect rights. migrants.
It is not yet clear whether the UK government will attempt to keep this policy in force. The Supreme Court judges ruled that “the structural changes and capacity building needed” to make Rwanda a secure country “could be achieved in the future” but are not currently in place.
Some British conservatives have called for draconian measures. Ancient Minister of the Interior, Suella Bravermanwas fired by Sunak On Monday, the United Kingdom said it would leave the European Convention on Human Rights and its court if the Rwandan plan was blocked.
Justice Reed pointed out that “the legal rule that refugees should not be returned to their country of origin… if their life or liberty” is in danger is enshrined in several UK laws and international treaties, not just in the European convention.
Much of Europe and the United States is wondering how best to manage migrants seeking refuge from war, violence, oppression and global warming which has caused devastating droughts and floods.
Although Britain receives fewer asylum applications than countries like Italy, France or Germany, thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in the hope of cross the Channel.
More than 27,300 migrants have crossed the Channel this year, which is expected to be lower than the 46,000 who made the journey in 2022. The government says this shows its tough approach is working, although others cite factors such as weather.
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