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The Rwanda Scheme Falters–Again

United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repetitively reaffirmed his goal of stopping the influx of illegal immigrants at UK borders–but to what extent? Almost two years ago, before Sunak was appointed as PM, the country seemed to have finally found the solution to its problem through Rwanda. On 14 April 2022, the now ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the controversial partnership, the Rwanda asylum plan.

The Dumping Ground of the Developed

The UK has had a chronic problem of illegal immigrants, most of whom find their way through the English Channel in small boats. Maintaining border integrity had been a major factor for the 2016 elections, and the government had promised a huge decline in numbers only to drop their promise pre-elections in 2019. While the net immigration has been continuing to hit record highs since Brexit, the Channel also provides a threat to the immigrant’s lives and opens a gateway to human trafficking. Last November before the deal was struck, 27 people died on their dangerous journey through the Channel.

Thus, the 156 million dollar immigrant scheme was proclaimed to “save countless lives” by permanently relocating illegal refugees to Rwanda. Individuals relocated would be processed and resettled there, but they would not return to the UK. The plan also aimed to boost Rwandan investment and economic development. Although Rwanda looked at the deal favorably, calling it a “bold, unique, and innovative approach,” the plan was met with strong criticism and opposition from politicians, organizations, and international bodies. UNHCR released a statement shortly thereafter, highly condemning the country’s “plan to export its asylum obligations.” While the UK argued its “moral imperative” to crush human trafficking and illegal immigration, the UN asserted that the scheme is an “egregious breach” of human rights. Citing Israel’s failed plan of sending refugees to Rwanda, the UN assistant secretary-general Gillian Tiggs said that the plan will not be a long-term deterrent as intended. Various organizations also agreed on the UN’s prospect. Developed countries only host about 15% of the world’s refugees while the rest primarily fall on the shoulders of Africa. Another topic of conversation was the numerous issues of human rights warnings against Rwanda and concerns about the country’s human rights record, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and restriction of free speech, although the claims were dismissed by the government. Whether Rwanda could host a superflux of refugees, even with the financial help offered by the UK, was also debated.

The Flight Fiasco: 14 June 2022

Despite the backlashes and setbacks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel were ready to go forward with their solution to the decades-old Channel immigrant problem, as the inaugural thirty-person flight to Rwanda was scheduled for 14 June 2022. The government had recently battled multiple charities and a trade union at the High Court on 10 June, where the court ruled the flight clear. Campaign groups Detention Action and Care4Calais, the PCS Union, and four individual asylum seekers attempted to halt the flight altogether, calling it a threat to people’s lives and an “unlawful” way to treat asylum seekers, but were unsuccessful. During the hearing; however, the passenger number was agreed to be dropped to 7. The case was appealed again on 13 June, a day before the flight, but the judge once again refused to grant an interim injunction.

Labor party called out the flight as being against “British values of common sense and decency,” and claimed that the plan is not only “unethical” and “extortionately expensive but it also “risks making smuggling and trafficking worse.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council harshly criticized “treating people who are in search of safety like human cargo and shipping them off,” and deemed the plan against the 1951 Refugee Convention.

On 14 June 2022, the day of the scheduled flight, an emergency eleventh-hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights canceled the flight. Merely an hour and a half before the flight was expected to take off, an ECHR ruling on one of the seven cases aboard let the other six passengers appeal, scrapping the flight altogether. Considering James Wilson’s, deputy director of Detention Action, declaration that the ECHR “rarely intervenes in the legal matters of member countries,” the decision truly was a “significant and embarrassing blow,” as written by The Guardian. Additionally, the intervention had taken place hours after Prime Minister Johnson threatened to leave the ECHR, a call that only strengthened among politicians after the cancellation.

Courts, Claims, and Conventions

It was also the flight fiasco and the dominoes of court cases on 14 June that resulted in a full court case on the legal integrity of the entire scheme to be expected for July. On 19 December 2022, the UK High Court once again refused to barricade the Rwanda asylum deal, finding it per the UN Refugee Convention and human rights. Although the court ruled the scheme lawful, the plan was criticized by the judges for not properly considering the circumstances of eight asylum seekers. Thus, appeal applications were open to consideration and inevitable. The new PM Rishi Sunak, who took office two months prior, was also keen on the plan like Johnson, said: “We want to go as quickly as possible." The prime minister had made “stopping the boats” an official goal since taking over.

Throughout 2023, the plan kept getting backlash from the public, politicians, organizations, and the media. The Guardian accused Sunak of turning a blind eye to M23’s extensive war crimes in Congo after he met with the Rwandan president. The rebel group M23 which has been wrecking havoc in the DRC is concluded to be supported by Rwanda by the UN, a point reiterated by the organization experts in a report on June 2023. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also published similar reports. The US and EU have called the Rwandan cease its support of M23 despite Rwanda’s firm denial of any involvement.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May exclaimed that the bill would “consign victims to modern-day slavery” as it would give human traffickers great leverage over victims.

Healthcare officials have also expressed grave concern due to the “catastrophic mental and physical harm” the refugees will suffer.

The appeal by numerous parties, supported by the UNHCR argued that the UK has no way of guaranteeing the safety of the asylum seekers in Rwanda, finalized on 29 June 2023. The court concluded that Rwanda was not a “safe third country” and deemed the plan unlawful. Rishi Sunak vowed to appeal the verdict at the Supreme Court.

That vow did take place with the final ruling being out this week. The Supreme Court echoed that the policy was unlawful. The current plan alongside its corresponding bill in passing was scrapped entirely.

Britain's Plan B

With nowhere else to go, the Rwanda scheme seems to have failed miserably. On November 17, Downing Street ruled out the proposal to override international law. As thousands of asylum seekers wait in limbo, Sunak is once again vowing to go through with his controversial deal, this time by introducing emergency legislation to “confirm” Rwanda as a safe country as a last-ditch effort. With Sunak recently sacking his home secretary Suella Braverman, who had admitted the PM had no “plan B,” the tensions for the legislation drive high. Sunak had also raised brows after he renounced that the flights would take place summer of 2023 after Home Office told so on Braverman's trip to Rwanda.

If the legislation fails, the options of drafting a new deal with Rwanda, including other countries like Türkiye and Eygpt, and even calling for a snap general election are still on the table; however, the chances that the plan will persist remain improbable. While the UK’s international reputation begins to wane and its ties with ECHR severs, BBC’s recent interviews with asylum seekers unearth that the shaky deportation threat is “no deterrent” and may not be the solution Sunak is looking for.

Still, amongst all the commotion, a question ensues: Why hasn’t the West’s eagerness to confine millions of Syrian and Afghani refugees in Türkiye, a fellow developing nation to Rwanda, been met with similar retaliation?

Works Cited

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Fleming, Lucy. “UK Asylum Deal: Is Rwanda a Land of Safety or Fear?” BBC News, BBC News, 14 Apr. 2022, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

“Rwanda Migration Policy Breaches International Law, Says UN Refugee Agency.” The Independent, 22 Apr. 2022, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

Macaskill, Andrew, and Michael Holden. “UK’s First Flight Taking Migrants to Rwanda Can Go Ahead, Court Rules.” Reuters, 11 June 2022, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

‌Mason, Chris. “Rwanda Asylum Flight: Where Does Legal Setback Leave Ministers?” BBC News, BBC News, 14 June 2022, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

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‌“First Flight to Rwanda Cancelled after Last-Minute Appeals | Laura Devine Immigration.” Laura Devine Immigration, 15 June 2022, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

‌Picheta, Rob, and Sharon Braithwaite. “UK’s Controversial Plan to Deport Asylum Seekers to Rwanda Ruled Lawful by Court.” CNN, CNN, 19 Dec. 2022, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

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‌Taylor, Diane, and Ben Quinn. “Braverman Plan to Send Asylum Seekers to Rwanda Unlawful, Appeal Court Rules.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 29 June 2023, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

‌Taylor, Diane. “UK Medical Bodies ‘Gravely Concerned’ over Rwanda Deportation Scheme.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 24 Apr. 2023, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

‌Casciani, Dominic. “Supreme Court Rules Rwanda Asylum Policy Unlawful.” BBC News, BBC News, 15 Nov. 2023, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

‌“Rwanda Court of Appeal Ruling: £140m Deportation Deal Ruled Unlawful.” The Independent, 30 June 2023, Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.

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‌Holden, Michael. “Explainer: What Is the UK’s Rwanda Migrant Deportation Plan?”



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