UK’s Rwanda bill approved despite human rights outcry

UK's Rwanda bill approved despite human rights outcry

Legislation paving the way for the UK to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has been approved by Westminster in what human rights campaigners have called a “national disgrace”.

Michael O’Flaherty, the new European commissioner for human rights, is among those leading criticism today after the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill received final approval yesterday evening.

Home secretary James Cleverly said the passing of the “vital legislation” meant that deportation flights could begin “within 10-12 weeks”. Prime minister Rishi Sunak hailed it as “not just a step forward but a fundamental change in the global equation on migration”.

The bill provides that Rwanda should be deemed a safe country for the purposes of relocating people, including in UK courts and tribunals.

It will prevent legal challenges from being used to delay or halt a person’s removal to Rwanda on the grounds that Rwanda is generally unsafe, or that an individual will be returned to an unsafe country after removal to Rwanda, i.e. refoulement.

It was brought forward by the government after the UK Supreme Court ruled in November 2023 that the Rwanda policy could lead to breaches of asylum seekers’ human rights.

Amnesty International says the bill sets “an extremely dangerous precedent” and represents “one of the most shameful acts of any Parliament in this country’s history”.

Mr O’Flaherty, the Irish lawyer who took up office as the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner earlier this month, called on the UK government to “refrain from removing people under the Rwanda policy and reverse the bill’s effective infringement of judicial independence”.

He continued: “Managing asylum and migration is undoubtedly a complex endeavour for states, but it must always be done in full compliance with international standards.

“In this regard, I am concerned that the Rwanda Bill enables the implementation of a policy of removing people to Rwanda without any prior assessment of their asylum claims by the UK authorities in the majority of cases.

“Specifically, the bill prevents individuals faced with removal to Rwanda from accessing remedies for potential violations of the absolute prohibition of refoulement, while it also significantly excludes the ability of UK courts to fully and independently scrutinise the issues brought before them.”

He added: “The Rwanda Bill’s adoption is another representation of an ongoing trend towards externalisation of asylum and migration policy in Europe, which is a matter of concern for the global system of protection of the rights of refugees.

“This is an issue that will have my early and close attention as Council of Europe commissioner for human rights.”

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