Rwanda asylum partnership

Under the UK-Rwanda migration and economic development partnership, Rwanda has agreed to receive asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible in the UK. The Supreme Court has since ruled that the plan is unlawful. The UK government introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill to legislate around the court ruling.

This page covers:

What you need to know

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023 puts into statute provisions that already exist in the Immigration Rules.

Under those rules, asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible (including on the basis they’ve stopped in another country during their journey to the UK) can be removed to a ‘safe third country’, as long as that country agrees to receive them.

If an asylum claim is inadmissible this means that it will not be considered, even if there is significant evidence that the person is a refugee.

Previously, no agreements with other countries to accept asylum seekers from the UK were reached and so no one was removed under these provisions.

However, under the UK-Rwanda migration and economic development partnership, Rwanda has agreed to receive asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible in the UK.

If no other country agrees to receive the person (including a country where the person has a ‘connection’), it’s possible that they may face relocation to Rwanda, even if they have no connection there.

Two legal challenges were issued in June 2022. These judicial review cases were heard by the High Court in September and October 2022 and examined:

  • individual-focused claims challenging the lawfulness of the arrangements to remove individuals from the UK to Rwanda
  • the lawfulness of the government’s rapid process for sending asylum seekers to Rwanda

In December 2022, the High Court found the government’s scheme to be lawful, but outlined that the government must review each individual case overall.

The High Court found the home secretary had not properly reviewed the eight individual claims, which each needed to be reconsidered.

Claimants' request for appeal granted in High Court

At a hearing held in the High Court on 16 January 2023, applications for permission to appeal the December judgment were made by the eight claimants.

Permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal was granted to six of the eight individual claimants.

The grounds which were given permission to appeal included whether:

  • the government was right to conclude that Rwanda is a safe third country to send asylum seekers to
  • the agreement between the UK and Rwanda governments provided sufficient protection against refoulement and other article 3 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) ill treatment
  • the Rwanda policy constituted a penalty under article 31 of the Refugee Convention
  • the policy breached retained EU law
  • the policy was systematically unfair

Ruling in the Court of Appeal

On 29 June 2023, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government’s Rwanda asylum plan was unlawful, and that the High Court’s decision to deem Rwanda “a safe third country” should be reversed. The Court of Appeal found, by a majority, the Rwanda plan to be unlawful as Rwanda is not a sufficiently safe country to send asylum seekers to.

All of the other grounds of appeal pursued by the claimant asylum seekers against the Rwanda plan were unanimously dismissed.

Ruling in the Supreme Court

The government appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.

On 15 November 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rwanda asylum plan is unlawful. This was an evidence-based finding of fact that Rwanda is not a safe country to which the UK could send asylum seekers, given the high risk of that Rwanda sending asylum seekers to places where there is a risk they would be subjected to persecution and ill-treatment (known as the principle of non-refoulement).

UK-Rwanda treaty and Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

The UK-Rwanda treaty

On 5 December 2023, the UK government introduced a treaty with Rwanda outlining the terms of the asylum partnership. Previously, this had only been agreed in a memorandum of understanding, which was not legally binding.

We do not believe this treaty sufficiently addresses the concerns of the Supreme Court.

Rwanda has been found by the Supreme Court not to be a safe country for asylum seekers. The signing of a treaty does not change this finding of fact.

We have serious concerns about:

  • the proposed safeguards, including safeguards on non-refoulement
  • the treaty procedure not guaranteeing sufficient parliamentary scrutiny

Read our briefing on the UK-Rwanda treaty (PDF 61 KB)

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

On 7 December 2023, the government introduced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. This is intended to support implementation of the UK-Rwanda treaty.

We are concerned the bill sets a dangerous legal and constitutional precedent by legislating to overturn an evidence-based finding of fact by UK courts and preventing them from providing legal oversight. It is likely the bill is incompatible with the UK’s international obligations.

The bill is unconstitutional, bars access to justice and is unworkable.

It dictates that UK courts must treat Rwanda as a safe country, in direct contradiction of the Supreme Court’s evidence-based finding of fact, and prevents them from considering whether Rwanda is safe in the future. This undermines the rule of law and the crucial constitutional separation of powers.

We are concerned the rule of law and access to justice are being corroded, all for a policy that will have limited impact.

We are also concerned that a bill of this constitutional nature is not being afforded time for proper scrutiny.

Read our briefing on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill (PDF 135 KB)

Our view

“The bill creates a statutory obligation that every decision maker, including the courts, must treat Rwanda as a safe country,” said our chief executive Ian Jeffery.

“In doing so, it is seeking to avoid an evidence-based finding of fact confirmed by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK.

“This is damaging to both the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers.

“While parliament has the right to respond to a court judgment by passing legislation to change a point of domestic law, it cannot use law to change fact.”

Allowing a court of law to act unlawfully would make a mockery of the UK’s legal system.

The sum effect of the bill is to strip the courts of any meaningful oversight and ability to provide human rights protection, leaving individuals exposed to potential human rights abuses.

It is seriously unwise to introduce legislation that disapplies human rights, defies international law and blocks access to justice for vulnerable individuals for the sake of a policy that is doomed to fail.

What we’ve done so far

January 2024 – we provided written evidence to the House of Lords International Agreements Committee on the agreement. Their report was published on the 17th January, and mentioned us eight times

January 2024 – we briefed MPs on the he Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, outlining our concerns, ahead of its committee stage

December 2023 – we're briefing MPs on the issues with the UK-Rwanda treaty and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

August 2022 – we made a written submission to the House of Lords International Agreements Committee on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement

Read more about our activities related to the Illegal Migration Act.

Get involved

We’ll be monitoring the effects of the Nationality and Borders Act, the Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda asylum partnership to ensure any negative consequences are brought to the attention of law makers.

If you've represented a client where any of the new measures have caused concern, email our policy adviser Sinead Nowak.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS