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UNHCR says Sunak’s new Rwanda bill still violates international humanitarian law

Prime minister faces mounting Tory rebellion over flagship immigration policy

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 16 January 2024 05:54 GMT
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Tory MP Simon Clarke vows to vote against Rishi Sunak’s flagship Rwanda policy

The new Rwanda deal proposed by Rishi Sunak’s government is still “not compatible” with international refugee law, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.

The UNHCR has published its legal assessment of the bill designed to allow Britain to send asylum seekers who arrive illegally in the UK to Rwanda.

The UNHCR said the modified Rwanda scheme “does not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers and is not compatible with international refugee law”.

In November last year, the UK Supreme Court blocked the government’s Rwanda policy, declaring it unlawful.

After the ruling, the government introduced the Safety of Rwanda Bill, asserting that, according to UK law, Rwanda was considered a safe country.

Additionally, the bill grants ministers the authority to disregard emergency orders from the European Court of Human Rights that would suspend a flight to Rwanda during the ongoing legal proceedings of an individual case.

Mr Sunak is optimistic that the upcoming legislation, once enacted, will address legal concerns and enable him to uphold his commitment to preventing individuals from arriving via small boats across the Channel.

In its published analysis on Monday evening, the UNHCR concluded: “UNHCR has reviewed the updated UK-Rwanda scheme in light of the principles and standards set out in its 2022 analysis and summarised in Part I above.”

The UNHCR said that the shortcomings in the Rwandan asylum system, as highlighted by the Supreme Court, have not been rectified.

“It maintains its position that the arrangement, as now articulated in the UK-Rwanda Partnership Treaty and accompanying legislative scheme23 does not meet the required standards relating to the legality and appropriateness of the transfer of asylum seekers and is not compatible with international refugee law.”

It comes as Mr Sunak faces a parliamentary showdown this week with right-wing members of his party, who are poised to support rebel amendments to the bill as his flagship legislation.

Parliament will vote on a series of proposed amendments on Tuesday and Wednesday aimed at closing off potential loopholes that could block asylum seekers from being removed to Rwanda.

Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith said they would defy the government by joining more than 60 Tory MPs who are seeking to disapply international law from the Bill and curtail asylum seekers’ rights to appeal against flights to Kigali.

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