19 December 2022

Home Secretary: ‘We will send migrants to Rwanda as soon as possible’

19 December 2022

The Home Secretary has said she is “committed” to sending migrants to Rwanda as soon as possible after judges ruled the multi-million pound deal to curb Channel crossings was lawful.

Suella Braverman told MPs the High Court judgment “thoroughly vindicated” the Government’s policy – which she insisted is “compassionate”, “pragmatic” and “rational”.

Several court challenges were brought against the proposals announced by then-home secretary Priti Patel in April, which she described as a “world-first agreement” with the East African nation to deter people from making the journey across the Channel to the UK.

The first deportation flight – due to take off on June 14 – was then grounded amid a series of objections against individual removals while the legality of the entire policy was also contested.

But at a hearing on Monday, senior judges rejected arguments that the plans to provide asylum seekers with one-way tickets to Rwanda were unlawful.

Lord Justice Lewis, sitting with Mr Justice Swift, dismissed the challenges against the policy as a whole, but ruled in favour of eight asylum seekers, finding the Government had acted wrongly in their individual cases.

Detention Action, Care4Calais, the PCS union and Asylum Aid – which sought the judicial reviews – all said they were disappointed with the ruling and are considering whether to appeal against the decision.

Meanwhile campaigners called on the Government to completely abandon the plan, with opposition politicians and charities lining up to condemn the proposals and arguing it will do nothing to stop Channel crossings.

But in the Commons, Ms Braverman insisted the plan was “humane and practical” that would make the route across the Channel “unviable”.

Britain is a “kind and generous country” but does not have “infinite capacity”, she told MPs, adding: “We cannot tolerate people coming here illegally.”

She also dismissed “misinformation” about Rwanda, stressing it was a “safe and democratic” country.

“The court held that the relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is consistent with the Refugee Convention, and with the statutory and other legal obligations on the Government, including obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act.

“This judgment thoroughly vindicates the Rwanda partnership.

“I spoke with my Rwandan counterpart, Vincent Biruta, and we both confirmed our joint and steadfast resolve to deliver this partnership at scale as soon as possible.

“It’s what the overwhelming majority of the British people want to see happen.

“The sooner it is up and running, the sooner we will break the business model of the evil gangs and bring an end to these illegal, unnecessary and unsafe crossings,” Ms Braverman said.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, however, warned the ruling sets out “evidence of serious problems in Home Office decision making”, identifies “significant financial costs” of the scheme and “very limited numbers of people who would qualify” as well as “no evidence this will act as a deterrent.”

The court concluded the Home Office decision-making in each of the eight cases was “so flawed and chaotic” that they had to be quashed, she added.

Rishi Sunak welcomed the High Court’s decision, telling broadcasters in Riga: “We’ve always maintained that our Rwanda policy is lawful, and I’m pleased that was confirmed today and this is just one part of our plan to tackle illegal migration.”

The Rwandan government said it stands ready to “offer asylum seekers and migrants safety and the opportunity to build a new life in Rwanda”, describing the ruling as a “positive step in our quest to contribute innovative, long-term solutions to the global migration crisis.”

But Downing Street admitted it was impossible to say when flights could take off while the threat of further legal action remained.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was unable to guarantee whether any flights carrying migrants would depart in 2023 but said the Government stands ready to defend any further legal challenges.

“We want it to be done as soon as possible. I don’t think, while there is possibility of further legal action, we can put a specific timeframe on it.

“But, as I say, no court has ruled this policy illegal, in fact, quite the opposite, so we will look to push ahead with this as soon as possible,” he said.

Speaking at an event during this year’s Conservative Party conference in October, Ms Braverman said the legal battles in this case could go to the UK Supreme Court or European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and that “unfortunately you have got to let that play out”.

In a summary of the ruling read out in court, Lord Justice Lewis said: “The court has concluded that it is lawful for the Government to make arrangements for relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda and for their asylum claims to be determined in Rwanda rather than in the United Kingdom.”

He added: “The relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is consistent with the Refugee Convention and with the statutory and other legal obligations on the Government, including the obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998.”

However, he said the Home Secretary “has not properly considered” the eight individuals’ cases, which meant the decisions to send them to Rwanda will be quashed and sent back to be reconsidered.

At a five-day hearing in September, lawyers for several asylum seekers – along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action – argued that the plans are unlawful and that Rwanda “tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents”.

At a further hearing in October, lawyers for the charity Asylum Aid also challenged the policy, arguing that the procedure is “seriously unfair” and also unlawful, with asylum seekers put at risk of being removed without access to legal advice.

The Home Office defended the claims, with lawyers arguing that the memorandum of understanding agreed between the UK and Rwanda provides assurances that ensure everyone sent there will have a “safe and effective” refugee status determination procedure.

Deputy director of Detention Action James Wilson said the policy is “brutal and harmful” and the charity will “fight on” but it is a “huge relief” that the court ruled in favour of eight asylum seekers, adding that the findings in their cases “highlights itself problems with the policy”.

Alison Pickup, director of Asylum Aid, said: “We will be looking closely at this judgment to see if there are any grounds for an appeal.

“Meanwhile, we urge the Home Secretary to re-think this inhumane policy and come up with one that can give us all faith in the asylum decision-making process. One that treats asylum applications with the seriousness they deserve and respects the human dignity of those seeking sanctuary here.”

Last month, the Home Office’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft told MPs that Britain has already paid Rwanda £140 million but he was still unsure whether the stalled asylum policy was value for money.

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