After the UK’s High Court judged the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda as lawful, NGOs quickly reacted. Some fear an acceleration of this trend on a European scale. Others want to focus their efforts on providing legal support to migrants facing deportation from the UK.
The reactions came quickly after London’s High Court decided to validate the controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. “If the government moves ahead with these harmful plans, it would damage the UK’s reputation as a country that values human rights," said Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer at Refugee Council, contacted by Infomigrants. The NGO is one of the applicants in legal proceedings brought against the government’s plan, suspended since April.
“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,” Lord Justice Lewis said in court on Monday, December 20, after a five day hearing. Following the court’s decision, asylum seekers who have arrived irregularly on British territory can be sent to the East African nation, where Rwandan officials would assess their asylum applications more than 6,000 kilometers away from London.
"The UK-Rwanda arrangement contravenes the UK’s international obligations", said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR is not involved in the legal proceedings against the government plan, but its experts have advised the court, in particular on compliance with the 1951 Geneva Convention governing the international protection of migrants.
The outsourcing of asylum seekers, "a domino effect"
The idea of outsourcing asylum seekers, ardently championed by the UK Home Office, is part of a broader, global trend. "The responsibility for asylum is shifting from wealthy countries to other, so-called 'developing' countries," said Emilie McDonnell, advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch, during a Twitter talk on Tuesday. "It is a harmful decision to avoid and shirk their asylum obligations by delegating their responsibilities in this way."
Australia was the first country to apply such a policy on a large scale since the early 2000s, by sending asylum seekers to detention centers in other territories to have their records reviewed. The result was "outsourced detention centers and open-air prisons", with migrants and refugees held "in atrocious conditions", said Graeme McGregor, Campaign manager for the NGO Detention Action, during the conference.
Also read: Denmark closer to sending asylum seekers to Rwanda
Copying the UK, Denmark recently moved forward on an agreement with Rwanda. Several other European countries, including Austria, have called for the EU to introduce asylum procedures is safe third countries. "There is a domino effect" of outsourcing policies, which is "a real threat to the international protection of refugees", said Emilie McDonnell. The UK High Court’s decision could very likely accelerate the trend.
Rwanda, far from being a "safe" country
If the UK succeeds in implementing its plan, the people deported to Rwanda "will not disappear. They will simply re-enter global migration, leaving from a poorer, less secure country than the UK", Graeme McGregor of Detention Action argued.
Under the agreement signed with Rwanda in April, Britain is paying £140 million, or about €160 million. But “this plan won't work if they think people are going to stay in Rwanda," said Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Rwanda, described by the British government as a "safe" third country, is far from a welcoming place for asylum seekers. "Arbitrary and illegal detention are commonplace”, said Lewis Mudge, adding that practices of "torture" are regularly documented.
Also read: Suicide risk high among asylum seekers in the UK threatened with removal to Rwanda
The threat of deportation to Rwanda "creates great distress among those we support, including young people who become extremely anxious and in some cases self-harm", Enver Solomon of the Refugee Council said.
The need for legal aid for the asylum seekers concerned
The legal tussle, which began in April, is not over. The decision that fell on Monday is favorable to the government, but the NGOs intend to appeal. The case could eventually be brought before the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, or before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. A definitive conclusion will take months.
The case-by-case examination of asylum seekers threatened with deportation will be at the heart of the battle. The High Court judges ordered the authorities to study the particular situation of each asylum seeker before sending them to Rwanda. This nuance is the main window of opportunity for NGOs.
"It is crucial that those individually affected by this policy to receive legal assistance, as well as emotional support," said Graeme McGregor of Detention Action.
Also read: She's back: Suella Braverman's return to Home Office mired by controversy and distrust
A new hearing on January 16th will determine the viability of the appeal procedures. Meanwhile, Channel crossings between France and the United Kingdom are expected to continue. Over 40,000 crossings have taken place since the beginning of the year and at least four people died in a shipwreck last week.
The Rwanda plan is "bad in principle and unworkable in practice", said Enver Solomon. "It's an extremely expensive policy", which the government believes is a deterrent, when it "just doesn't work. It simply forces people to take increasingly dangerous journeys". The head of theUK Refugee Council called on the British government to develop instead "an orderly, humane and fair asylum system, with solid options like humanitarian visas."
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