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Supreme Court ruling on Rwanda policy and implications for the Illegal Migration Act

16 November 2023

KIND UK welcomes the UK Supreme Court’s decision of 15 November 2023 that the UK Government’s “Rwanda policy” to forcibly remove asylum-seekers to a third country rather than process their claims in the UK is unlawful. The Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for justice, human rights, and the rule of law.

The Supreme Court emphasises that the Government’s plan was to send asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda for their asylum claims to be assessed by Rwandan officials. If applicants were found to be in need of protection, they would remain in Rwanda.

The decision confirms that Rwanda is not a safe country and the government cannot declare that it is without evidence. The evidence presented to the courts, provided by the UNHCR and other experts, demonstrated that there are systemic and deep flaws in Rwanda’s asylum system, including a lack of legal representation, a lack of independent judicial oversight and, among other serious problems, clandestine transfer of asylum seekers by Rwandan officials to other countries, followed by removal to countries where refugees face a risk of persecution.

The Court noted that Rwanda has a poor human rights record more generally, and that at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Rwanda in Geneva in January 2021, the United Kingdom government criticised Rwanda for “extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture … The most serious incident occurred in 2018, when the Rwandan police fired live ammunition at refugees protesting over cuts to food rations, killing at least 12 people.” (UK Supreme Court Judgment in ‘Rwanda Appeals’, 15 November 2023, pp. 29-30)

The government’s Rwanda plan is closely tied to the Illegal Migration Act. The Supreme Court’s ruling raises further questions and concerns regarding the operation of the Act. KIND UK echoes concerns raised by the Law Society that the Act creates a growing group of people who cannot be removed or granted asylum, and will be left in limbo in the UK. Many are refugees who have fled persecution in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan, where human rights violations are endemic.

KIND UK provides free legal assistance to undocumented children and children who are eligible for British citizenship. We work on approximately 700 cases per year, for children throughout the UK. We are profoundly concerned that the IMA leaves many children who enter the UK on or after 7 March 2023 permanently barred from acquiring leave to remain or British citizenship (unless an exception is applied). In cases where such children cannot be removed, they would grow up in Britain without access to many essential services and opportunities that come with secure status, and without the ability to work later in life. These children would become perpetually undocumented adults. For more information, please see our briefing on the Illegal Migration Act.

KIND UK also recently published a “Third Sector Statement for Local Authorities on the Illegal Migration Act 2023” raising concerns about the likely impact of the Act on local authorities, which have statutory duties to protect children. The statement is endorsed by more than 20 organisations across civil society.

We urge the British government to reconsider its approach and ensure that refugees who come to Britain are able to access a fair, efficient, and humane system in which to seek protection, and that all children in the UK have access to all of their rights under British and international law.