Rwanda Policy – Deterrent or Punishment?

Article by Tony Muman

On 13 April, the Secretary of State announced that the UK had entered into an agreement with the Republic of Rwanda with terms recorded in a Memorandum of Understanding.

The position of the UK government is that those who are seeking asylum in the UK having travelled through a safe third country arriving by dangerous and illegal means can have their claims ruled ‘inadmissible’ and removed to Rwanda, which is in the government’s view a ‘safe’ country, for their asylum claim to be considered, and where they will remain regardless of the outcome.

The proposals have caused outrage – not least because of the secretive nature and speed at which it has been implemented. The government have been scrambling for ideas to appear tough on asylum, and this policy is the latest in a long line of ideas designed, it is said, to deter those coming to seek refuge in the UK from dangerous and illegal travel. This policy follows on from a decade of hostile environment that the government has created for immigrants.

The criteria for those eligible for relocation have been kept a closely guarded secret, however, the Home Office’s Equality Impact Assessment analysed data from 2020 which stated that 74% of those arriving by such means were aged between 18-39, 87% were male and made of a specific group of nationalities.

Since the Brexit transition period ended (31 December 2020) there have been no bilateral agreements made between the UK and other EU member states. The result of which is that the UK is now unable to return asylum-seekers to other EU member states. The Rwandan removals policy is a knee jerk reaction to this problem.

Legal opposition to this policy was expected by the Home Office and as a result, they had attempted to take swift action by scheduling a charter flight to Rwanda on 14 June 2022. The flight was grounded after the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction.

The cost of implementing this policy has been an initial £120 million as part of an “economic transformation and integration fund” but UK taxpayers will be paying for operational costs of each individual alongside this.

There is no clear evidence that this policy will deliver value for money, nor is there any evidence to support the idea that it will succeed in its deterrent effect. To the contrary, there is every indication that the policy unlawfully penalises asylum seekers based on their route of journey and mode of arrival in the UK.

The legality of the Rwanda policy will be fully argued in UK High Court next month. Today’s directions hearing will ensure the case is ready for then.

Halcyon Chambers’ Public Law specialists Ramby De Mello & Tony Muman are instructed in one of the eight claims selected by the Court as lead test cases.