LONDON, Dec 19– Britain’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda is lawful, London’s High Court ruled on Monday, in a victory for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who has made a high-stakes political promise to tackle the record number of migrants arriving in small boats.
The policy, which was denounced by rights groups and even King Charles after it was announced in April, would involve Britain sending tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on its shores more than 4,000 miles away (6,400 km) to Rwanda.
Announcing the court’s decision, judges Clive Lewis and Jonathan Swift said it was lawful for Britain to make arrangements with the Rwanda government to send asylum seekers to the country for their asylum claims to be determined there.
The Conservatives have made the fight against illegal immigration, one of the promises of Brexit, one of their priorities.
But there have never been so many migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. Since the beginning of the year, about 45,000 have thus arrived on English shores, compared to 28,526 in 2021. And four migrants, including a teenager, lost their lives attempting the crossing on December 14, just over a year after 27 people died in similar circumstances.
Boris Johnson’s government reached an agreement with Kigali in April to deport to Rwanda asylum seekers, regardless of their origin, who arrived illegally on British soil. A policy designed to discourage crossings of the English Channel in small boats, but which has been widely criticized and challenged in court.
The court found that it is lawful for the British government to make arrangements for asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda and have their claims assessed in Rwanda rather than in the U.K.,” according to a summary of the ruling issued by the London High Court. The court found that the government’s planned arrangements did not contravene the Geneva Refugee Convention.
Rishi Sunak said he welcomed the High Court ruling, calling it a “common sense position” that was supported by “the vast majority of the British public”.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Riga, Latvia, the prime minister said: “We’ve always maintained that our Rwanda policy is lawful, and I’m pleased that was confirmed today.”
The first deportation flight, which was due to take off on 14 June, was grounded following a series of objections from lawyers for several asylum seekers, along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action.
The very right-wing boss of the Home Office, who had expressed her “dream” of seeing migrants deported to Rwanda, emphasized her willingness to implement the project “as soon as possible”.
“And we are ready to defend ourselves again against any legal action,” Suella Braverman said, after admitting on Saturday the failure of the government to deliver on the promise to resume “control” of the borders.
The court did ask the Home Office to reconsider its position on eight migrants who opposed their deportation to Rwanda. The Home Office has not sufficiently examined their personal circumstances to determine whether there is anything about them that would preclude their removal to Rwanda.
Opponents of the project greeted the ruling with disappointment and anger. Among the organizations that brought the lawsuit was Care4Calais, whose founder Clare Moseley expressed her determination that “no refugee should be forcibly deported” to Rwanda. The organization, like Detention Action, plans to appeal the decision.
Paul O’Connor, representing the civil servants’ union PCS, said the government’s plan remains “morally reprehensible and totally inhumane” and that an appeal should be “seriously” considered.
The Refugee Council slammed the “cruel” policy of treating “people seeking safety as human commodities” as damaging to the UK’s reputation as a country of human rights.
The Labour opposition called the plan “unworkable”, “unethical” and “prohibitively expensive”.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees intervened in the case before the High Court, arguing that “the minimum components of a reliable and fair asylum system” are lacking in Rwanda and that such a policy would lead to “serious risks of violations” of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.