LONDON (AP) — Britain’s plan to send asylum-seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda is legal, two High Court judges ruled Monday in a victory for the government’s controversial policy.
But the judges also said the government failed to consider the individual circumstances of the people it has tried to deport, signaling further legal battles ahead before anyone is put on a plane to East Africa.
A court hearing in the case is set for next month, and appeals are likely.
Eight asylum-seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union filed lawsuits to stop the Conservative government acting on a deportation agreement with Rwanda that aims to deter migrants from trying to reach the U.K. by crossing the English Channel.
The U.K. plans to send some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats to the East African country, where their asylum claims would be processed. Under the plan, applicants granted asylum would stay in Rwanda rather than returning to the U.K.
“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,” judge Clive Lewis said.
But he added that the government “must decide if there is anything about each person’s particular circumstances” which meant they should not be sent to Rwanda.
“The Home Secretary has not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants whose cases we have considered,” the judge said.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has championed the Rwanda policy — and once called the Channel crossings an “invasion of our southern coast” — said the government would press on with the plan and “defend against any further legal challenge.”
“Our groundbreaking migration partnership with Rwanda will provide individuals relocated with support to build new lives there, while disrupting the business model of people-smuggling gangs putting lives at risk through dangerous and illegal small boat crossings,” Braverman said.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo also welcomed the British court’s decision.
“This is a positive step in our quest to contribute innovative, long-term solutions to the global migration crisis,” she said.
Ever Solomon, head of the charity Refugee Council, said the group was “very disappointed” by the ruling. He said the Rwanda plan was “a cruel policy that will cause great human suffering.”
Paul O’Connor of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents border workers, called the government’s policy “morally reprehensible.”
More than 44,000 people who crossed the Channel in small boats have arrived in Britain this year, and several have died in the attempt, including four last week when a boat capsized in freezing weather.
The British government argues that its deportation policy will deter people-trafficking gangs who ferry migrants on hazardous journeys across the Channel’s busy shipping lanes.
Human rights groups say the deal with Rwanda is illegal and unworkable, and that it is inhumane to send people thousands of miles to a country they don’t want to live in. They also cite Rwanda’s poor human rights record, including allegations of torture and killings of government opponents.
The U.K. government has argued that while Rwanda was the site of a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 1994, the country has since built a reputation for stability and economic progress. Critics say that stability comes at the cost of political repression.
Britain has paid Rwanda more than 120 million pounds ($146 million) under the deal struck in April, but no one has yet been sent to the country. The U.K. was forced to cancel the first deportation flight at the last minute in June after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm.”
The U.K. receives fewer asylum-seekers than many European nations, including Germany, France and Italy, but thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the Channel. Some want to reach the U.K. because they have friends or family there, others because they speak English or because it’s perceived to be easy to find work.
The government wants to deport all migrants who arrive by unauthorized routes, and aims to strike Rwanda-style deals with other countries. Critics point out there are few authorized routes for seeking asylum in the U.K., other than those set up for people from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.
A surge in arrivals and a U.K. bureaucratic backlog, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, has led to many Channel migrants languishing in overcrowded processing centers, where there have been outbreaks of diphtheria and other diseases.
Christina Marriott, director of policy at the British Red Cross, said “the offshoring of human beings” would “do little to prevent people from risking their lives to reach safety.”
“The government should instead take action to provide safe routes, ensure timely and correct decisions are made once people are in system, and that people are treated with dignity and respect throughout the process,” she said.
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