Asylum seekers win permission to challenge UK’s Rwanda policy
Ten people from conflict zones threatened with removal to Africa claim there has been a failure to consider risks of deportation
Tue 14 Mar 2023 10.23 EDT
A court of appeal judge has ruled that a group of asylum seekers can bring a legal challenge against the Home Office for what they claim has been a failure to consider the dangers and risks of deporting them to Rwanda.
Lord Justice Underhill, the vice-president of the court of appeal’s civil division, has granted permission for the group to appeal against the government’s controversial policy on some grounds.
Ten asylum seekers from a range of conflict zones including Iran, Iraq and Syria are involved in the legal challenge. They have all been threatened with removal to Rwanda.
Tuesday’s judgment considered whether the high court had properly examined whether Rwanda is a safe place to send asylum seekers to, especially in the light of grave warnings given to the court by the UN refugee agency UNHCR about the country’s poor track record of protecting refugees.
In December, judges found the government’s policy was lawful overall, but quashed the Home Office’s decisions to deport eight people selected for transfer to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, hailed the ruling as a victory, claiming it “thoroughly vindicates the Rwanda partnership” and restating her commitment to starting flights to Kigali.
While Tuesday’s ruling granted the asylum seekers’ appeal on some points, other grounds were rejected, such as the claim made by one man that his treatment by people smugglers on his journey to the UK amounted to being trafficked.
The ruling was welcomed by those challenging the Rwanda policy.
Sophie Lucas, a solicitor at Duncan Lewis, said: “We welcome the court of appeal’s decision to grant permission on our outstanding grounds of appeal. We maintain that the home secretary failed to conduct a thorough examination of the functioning of Rwanda’s asylum system, as required by law. There are crucial evidential gaps and deficiencies.
“The Rwanda policy is not compatible with fundamental human rights afforded to asylum seekers under the European convention on human rights, to which the UK was the first signatory, and the refugee convention.”
Jed Pennington, of Wilson Solicitors, said: “Our clients welcome today’s decision. It means the court of appeal will hear all of the key arguments on why at a general level the Rwanda scheme breaches the refugee convention, human rights law and common law safeguards.
“We hope that if the courts ultimately find in our clients’ favour, the government will respect the decision, and not seek to enact and rely on domestic legislation that breaks international law.”
The government has said that even if it wins against outstanding legal challenges to its Rwanda policy, no flights are likely to leave this year.
It has nonetheless invited bidders for a new £78m contract to deport people to Rwanda and any other countries the government signs a similar deal with. Concerns have previously been raised about the suitability of Rwanda for asylum seekers with particular vulnerabilities. The contract brief states: “Appropriate safeguards will be required for individuals being transferred with vulnerabilities.”
A full appeal hearing about the lawfulness of the Rwanda policy will take place from 24-27 April