Ministers urged to abandon Rwanda policy and Illegal Migration Act

Amnesty International and Asylum Aid said measures preventing refugees claiming asylum in the UK should be scrapped.

Patrick Daly
Wednesday 15 November 2023 15:52 GMT
Charities have urged the UK Government to rethink its policy of deporting asylum seekers to a third country (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Charities have urged the UK Government to rethink its policy of deporting asylum seekers to a third country (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ministers have been urged to scrap the Rwanda policy legislation after the Government’s plan was ruled to be unlawful by the UK’s most senior judges.

Amnesty International UK said it is time to “not only abandon” the deal with Kigali but to “scrap the Illegal Migration Act that has entrenched that dismal policy”.

Sacha Deshmukh, the human rights charity’s chief executive, said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration should use Wednesday’s Supreme Court verdict to “draw a line under a disgraceful chapter in the UK’s political history”.

The Government should be focusing on creating a functioning asylum system that allows people who seek safety in the UK a fair hearing on our soil and provides safe routes so they don’t have to take dangerous journeys

Enver Solomon, Refugee Council

He said: “This policy has made complete chaos of the UK’s asylum system and this shameful deal has simply exacerbated the mess.

“The only responsible, effective and decent response to this judgment should be to get down to the serious task of fairly and efficiently determining people’s claims.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the Church of England has “been clear in our profound concerns – moral and practical – about outsourcing our obligations to refugees to Rwanda”.

He said the court’s ruling should give the Government an “opportunity to reflect and reconsider its approach”, as he called for the “politics of division” to be put aside, and instead an “asylum system fit for the growing pressures of the coming century” to be designed, based on fairness, compassion “and the God-given dignity of every human being”.

Asylum Aid said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, it is “time for the Government to abandon the Illegal Migration Act”.

“There is no evidence that this inhumane policy works as a ‘deterrent’ to people who have no choice but to flee their homes,” the charity said.

“All it does is cause significant harm to those already in the UK, living in permanent fear of removal to a country they don’t know.”

The Law Society of England and Wales said the Act, following the unanimous verdict by five Supreme Court judges, cannot fulfil its purpose.

Nick Emmerson, president of the society, said: “The Act is reliant on removing people from the UK.

“The Rwanda removals agreement has been ruled unlawful and there are currently no other removal agreements in place to ‘safe’ third countries.

“A growing number of people will be left in limbo under the Act as they cannot be removed, and they cannot be granted asylum.

“The cost to the taxpayer will continue to increase as the individuals left in limbo are housed in either detention centres or Home Office-supported accommodation indefinitely.

“This therefore undermines both the Government’s justification for the Act and its ability to offer a sustainable solution for the UK’s asylum system.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which said it has “consistently highlighted the risks” of the Rwanda policy, said the Government must “improve the availability” of safe routes including through “providing for the ability to seek asylum prior to entry, not least to reduce the demand for people smuggling”.

A host of other human rights and refugee groups called for a rethink on the Rwanda policy, which Refugee Action dubbed a “grubby cash-for-humans deportation deal”.

The Government has handed over more than £140 million to Kigali for its deportation agreement despite no removal flights taking off.

Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, told the PA news agency outside the court in central London that the prospect of being sent to the east African country put “pure fear” into asylum seekers his organisation works with.

Charities urged ministers to address improving the UK’s asylum system rather than seek solutions abroad with third country deals.

Home Secretary James Cleverly, in his response to the judgment, suggested there is “an appetite for this concept” of deporting migrants arriving via authorised routes, citing interest “across Europe” in emulating the UK’s Rwanda-style proposal.

The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Enver Solomon, said: “The Government should be focusing on creating a functioning asylum system that allows people who seek safety in the UK a fair hearing on our soil and provides safe routes so they don’t have to take dangerous journeys.”

Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais, said: “Never again should our Government seek to shirk our country’s responsibility to offer sanctuary to those caught up in horrors around the world.”

Mr Cleverly was told by Detention Action that he must “abandon this policy altogether, rather than repeating this mistake by seeking a similar agreement with another country”.

The Liberal Democrats urged the Home Secretary, who replaced the sacked Suella Braverman in a reshuffle this week, to “get on with fixing the broken asylum system”.

Alistair Carmichael, the party’s home affairs spokesman, said: “So much time and money has already been wasted.

“Tackling the sky-high asylum backlog and creating safe and legal routes for sanctuary will make far more progress towards that than this pet project policy ever could.”

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