UK-Rwanda MoU for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement – Law Society response

We've responded to the House of Lords International Agreements Committee's call for evidence on the government's memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the UK and Rwanda for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement.

The MoU is an agreement between the two countries to relocate those who have been deemed to arrive in the UK illegally, to Rwanda.

The House of Lords International Agreements Committee launched an enquiry into the MoU, and called for evidence in June 2022.

The enquiry was launched over concerns that the partnership was agreed as a MoU, rather than as a treaty.

As a result, it was not subject to parliamentary scrutiny, even though it posed “significant human rights implications”, as stated by the committee’s chair, Baroness Hayter.

Questions and responses

The call for evidence asked respondents a range of questions, of which we responded to five:

  1. What are the international law implications of a non-binding agreement?
  2. How will safeguards be assessed?
  3. What mechanisms are in place to ensure detainees have access to legal advice?
  4. Is the MoU consistent with the UK's international obligations?
  5. How will the government measure the impact of the MoU?

1. What are the implications of signing an agreement that asserts that it is not binding on either party in international law? Is the MoU an appropriate vehicle for this agreement?

We believe that this type of agreement – which has significant rule of law impacts – should not have been introduced as an MoU, as it is not:

  • legally binding, or
  • subject to parliamentary scrutiny

2. How do you assess the assurances and safeguards included in the MoU, particularly those relating to inspection and monitoring, a relocated individuals’ access to legal assistance, and data protection?

The assurances made in the agreement are unenforceable and not legally binding.

We're also concerned that the government has proceeded without putting in place any legally binding safeguards for those affected by the policy.

A range of problems concerning Rwanda’s asylum procedures have been raised by the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

We are concerned about this, given that individuals who have been relocated would seek to protect their rights primarily through the domestic law of Rwanda.

Monitoring bodies are mentioned in the MoU, but these have not yet been set up. Additionally, not enough details have been given to determine if they would be effective.

3. Given article 5.1 of the MoU does not impose an obligation on the UK to provide legal assistance during the screening of asylum seekers before relocation to Rwanda, what mechanisms are there for legal advice to be provided to the individuals selected for relocation?

Most individuals will have access to legal aid and those who have been detained in a detention centre will be able to access legal representation through the Detained Duty Advice Scheme.

However, there is no mechanism within the MoU for those given a notice of removal to access legal advice.

Individuals in this situation would need to access legal advice on their own, and we are concerned that this would be difficult due to language barriers, lack of information and short timeframes.

The short timeframes to screen individuals for removal are insufficient to ensure that cases unsuitable for removal are identified.

We are concerned this would make some removals to Rwanda unsafe and incompatible with UK domestic law and international obligations.

4. Is the MoU consistent with the UK’s obligations under international law, including (but not limited to) the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings?

There are serious questions about the MoU’s compatibility with our international obligations, specifically in relation to articles 31 and 33 of the Refugee Convention.

We have similar concerns with the European Court of Human Rights.

There are also questions on whether practices under the MoU comply with international obligations to investigate, identify, and provide support to victims of torture, trafficking or modern slavery.

5. How, in practice, should the impact of the MoU be evaluated, and against which measures?

We have detailed how the impact should be evaluated in our full answer.

We also recommend that a risk assessment should be carried out for the transfer of each refugee.

Next steps

The committee published its report on 18 October 2022.

The government published its response to the report in January 2023.

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