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World Refugee Day 2022: The UK-Rwanda Plan Faces a Series of Legal Battles

The first flight of migrants was halted in the eleventh hour following a late intervention from the ECHR.

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Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

It has been a week of nail-biting suspense, watching a severe courtroom drama unfold against the UK government’s policy of flying asylum seekers to Rwanda. And the suspense continues, as a considerably large and influential size of the population including celebrities and charities find the policy “divisive.”

Under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s new policy is a five-year trial which will send some refugees to Rwanda, to claim asylum there. According to the government, the policy aims to stop human trafficking with hundreds arriving through “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods” such as on small boats and dinghies or hidden in lorries, when they could claim asylum in another safe country like France.

The twist in the tail is that if they are granted permanent refugee status they will not come to the UK, and instead, live in Rwanda. If their asylum claims fail, they can apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a "safe third country." So clearly, Rwanda is not a processing centre for asylum seekers wanting to come to the UK. In this deal, housing and food will be paid by the UK government and in return Rwanda gets £120 million.

Johnson made it clear that anyone "entering the UK illegally" after 1 January could be sent to Rwanda with no limit on numbers. Under this deal, Rwanda can also ask the UK to take in some of its most vulnerable refugees which it says will only be a few "outlier" cases.

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The UK Government Is Not Going To Give Up

Of the 37 refugees who were scheduled to be flown out Tuesday last week, the number reduced to seven, after charities and lawyers representing asylum seekers launched a series of legal challenges against the policy, questioning the safety of Rwanda as a destination and arguing that the scheme breaks the European Convention on Human Rights. But a final attempt to stop even the remaining seven from being sent was rejected by the Court of Appeal on Monday and upheld by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

As I said, the suspense does not end there. The flight was halted in the eleventh hour following a late intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is not an EU body but is part of the Council of Europe, which still counts the UK as a member.

Amidst massive protests, this judgment brought relief, but, in all likelihood, only temporarily, as it triggered further legal challenges. A determined Patel said the "preparation for the next flight begins now." Many in the know believe the UK is likely to challenge the ECHR’s decision. A belligerent Johnson, even suggested, hours before the court’s decision, that he could consider taking the UK out of the ECHR and accused lawyers of aiding criminals exploiting refugees in the Channel.

In fact, within days after the ECHR decision a 12-month pilot scheme has been launched that aims to determine whether this is an effective way of "improving and maintaining contact" with claimants by electronically tagging them. According to reports, documents also suggest that the government wants to obtain data on how frequently asylum seekers abscond.

In any case, the Supreme Court is due to hold a judicial review into the policy in July. If it says it is unlawful, any asylum seekers sent to Rwanda could be returned. The saga continues.

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'Immoral Policy That Shames Britain'

While this entire issue may shore up support in the Tory base but it has outraged opponents of the policy including the future king, Prince of Wales. Though the royals never comment on government decisions it is reported that Prince Charles, during a private conversation, described the policy as “appalling.”

The clergy is not far behind. The entire senior leadership of the Church Of England, including the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops who sit as lords spiritual in the House of Lords wrote a letter to the Times calling it an “immoral policy that shames Britain.” Senior Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders have also criticised the policy.

In fact, celebrities like Gary Lineker, the Bridgerton actor Adjoa Andoh, the rapper and author Akala and the artist Tracey Emin all signed a letter to three airlines which have worked previously with the Home Office on deportation flights: Titan Airways, Privilege Style, and Iberojet. Twitter has been abuzz with criticism of the policy.

While the government continues to claim it will stop the illegal trafficking of people, and Johnson says, its “morally the right thing to do,” there has been no reduction in the numbers coming illegally to UK shores, since its announcement on 14 April.

Although the policy has received a great deal of backlash but it is not revolutionary, with Denmark, Israel, and Australia having implemented similar mandates in recent years. Not only individual countries, even the EU has acted in a number of ways to try to slow or stop migrants coming across the sea, including taking deportation to a processing centre in a third country. Following the widespread concern about the number of migrants dying while trying to cross from North Africa to EU countries, especially after the route through Turkey was curtailed.

At least 3,000 migrants from Libya who were heading for Europe have been transferred to the Niger capital of Niamey in recent years by the UNHCR, in concert with the EU's migration management programme. The EU has hailed it a success.

In the case of UK, Rwanda is not merely a processing centre. Added to that, threats of taking the UK out of the ECHR and plans to electronically tag asylum seekers are seen as acts of breaching international law and reprehensibly repressive moves. However, the fate of the policy will only become clear after the Supreme Court’s decision next month.

(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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