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.

This page covers:

What you need to know

The Nationality and Borders Act 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.

Previously, no agreements 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.

Legal challenges

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.

However, the judgment outlined that the government must review each individual case.

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

Claimaints' 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 have permission to appeal include whether:

  • the agreement between the UK and Rwanda governments provides sufficient protection against refoulement and other article 3 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) ill treatment
  • the Rwanda policy constitutes a penalty under article 31 of the Refugee Convention
  • the policy breaches retained EU law
  • the policy is systematically unfair
  • the government’s conclusion that Rwanda is a safe third country

Ruling in the Court of Appeal

On 29 June, 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 government appealed this decision to the Supreme Court and the appeal was heard on 9 October to 11 October.

On 15 November, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rwanda asylum plan is unlawful.

Our view

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.

I. Stephanie Boyce, who was Law Society president when the bill was introduced to parliament, said:

“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.

“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.”

What we’ve done so far

August 2022 – we submitted 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 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.

Find out more about the Nationality and Borders Act

Find out how we're building public support and political will for change in our Reframing Justice programme 

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