Rwanda removals deal – unexamined, unenforceable
The UK ‘asylum partnership’ with Rwanda is not legally binding, has not been scrutinised by parliament and does not protect the rights of asylum-seekers, the Law Society of England and Wales said as it submitted evidence to the House of Lords on the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “This partnership would make profound and irreversible changes to the lives of refugees and migrants sent to Rwanda. But the safeguards in the deal are not binding or enforceable – domestic and international law requirements do not apply to them.
“If an asylum-seeker’s human rights were breached in Rwanda they would have no way of seeking justice in the UK. They wouldn’t be able to appeal to British courts and there is nothing the UK could do to enforce their rights under the terms of the agreement.”
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “There are potential breaches of international law at the UK end of the deal. For instance, if categories of people were in practice prevented from claiming asylum in the UK, or if the government were to effectively pre-judge asylum claims from groups of people.
“The Law Society believes people will be given insufficient notice or time to get legal advice about their removal to Rwanda under the MoU – just 14 days, or seven days if they are in immigration detention.
“Anyone subject to such a life-changing order must be able to challenge the decision, and to have their case processed fairly and transparently.
“The short timeframe for screening asylum-seekers could mean the Home Office fails to identify people who it would be unsafe to send to Rwanda, such as torture or trafficking victims, people with disabilities or other protected characteristics.
“We are concerned that failure to properly identify specific issues could be incompatible with our domestic law and international obligations such as prohibition of torture and identifying victims of trafficking.
“We believe this part of the MoU is inherently flawed and unfair and gives rise to a real risk that individuals may be removed to Rwanda without having had adequate access to legal advice or effective representation.”
“It is crucial that anyone affected has access to legal representation.”
The UN Refugee Convention prohibits ‘refoulement’ – returning a refugee to a place where they would face persecution. This applies not only to their country of origin but also to a third country, such as Rwanda.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “The UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons has raised concerns we echo that asylum seekers removed by the UK might face persecution in Rwanda.
“There is a further risk of them being subsequently removed from Rwanda to their country of origin and facing persecution there. Both eventualities could contravene the principle of non-refoulement.
“Monitoring bodies referred to in the agreement have not been set up and there are insufficient details to determine whether they would provide effective oversight.”
I. Stephanie Boyce concluded: “The government has failed utterly to put in place any legally binding safeguards or enforcement mechanisms to protect the rights of people it intends to send to Rwanda.
In addition to the consequences for individuals, this has potential consequences for the UK’s international standing, which is underpinned by our reputation for upholding the rule of law.
“The deal outsources the UK’s international obligations onto Rwanda. There is a real risk this could set a precedent.
“It is entirely inappropriate for the government to introduce such a significant change in the UK’s treatment of refugees without any oversight or scrutiny by Parliament. The legal challenge of the deal due to be heard in the autumn will therefore be the first opportunity to test whether the arrangement is lawful.”
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