Seven things you should know about the Safety of Rwanda Act

Now that government plans to begin their asylum scheme in the coming weeks, policy adviser Sinead Nowak lists the key things you need to know about the new Safety of Rwanda Act.
The Houses of Parliament at Westminster with a map of rwanda in the sky.
© William Fawcett, Omer Sukru Goksu

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act has now passed through both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent on 25 April 2024. Both the act and the UK-Rwanda Treaty which it rests on are now in force.

Our position is that the act is a defective, constitutionally improper piece of legislation.

The Rwanda policy extends the ‘inadmissibility’ policy that was introduced in 2021 and then put into statute in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

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.

This policy was extended in the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which effectively banned individuals who came to the UK via irregular means from settling in the UK and introduced a legal duty (which is not yet in force) to remove them to a safe third country.

Until the passage of the Safety of Rwanda Act there has been no ‘safe’ third country to remove asylum seekers entering to.

Here are some of the things you should know about this new law.

1. The act requires every decision maker, including the courts, to treat Rwanda as a safe country despite the Supreme Court ruling that it is not and despite any new evidence that it is not.

The act declares as a matter of law that Rwanda is a safe country for the UK to remove asylum seekers to.

This is despite Rwanda being found by the Supreme Court in November 2023 not to be a safe country for asylum seekers, given the high risk of Rwanda sending asylum seekers to places where there is a risk they would be subjected to persecution and ill-treatment.

The signing of a treaty does not change this finding of fact.

The act denies the courts the opportunity to consider any evidence that Rwanda is unsafe.

Even if the court was presented with overwhelming evidence that Rwanda is unsafe, the court would be forced to ignore this and treat Rwanda as a safe country. This removes the court’s ability to protect people at clear risk of harm.

If the government was confident that Rwanda was a safe country it should not fear independent oversight from the courts.

2. The act disapplies key sections of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998

The act disapplies much of the HRA to issues arising under the act. This includes:

  • preventing any consideration of case law where the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found Rwanda to be an unsafe country for asylum seekers
  • preventing the courts from applying the Safety of Rwanda Act in a way that is compatible with Convention rights
  • removing human rights obligations from public bodies, including the courts, and limiting the ability to bring human rights claims or otherwise rely on human rights arguments

3. It excludes most routes of legal challenge and only allows legal challenges based on individual circumstances

The act does not allow general challenges to the safety of Rwanda but the courts may find that Rwanda is unsafe for a particular person based on their individual circumstances if they can provide ‘compelling evidence’ of this.

However, the act prohibits any consideration of the non-refoulement principle in these individual cases. This means that courts cannot consider whether there is a risk someone will later be removed from Rwanda to their home country or another country where they will be at risk of persecution.

The principle of non-refoulement is given effect by many international treaties to which the UK is a signatory.

Since the Supreme Court found that the Rwanda policy was unlawful on this point, and unsafe for individuals, it is of grave concern that the courts will be barred from considering this point.

4. The act says that the government can disregard interim measures of the ECtHR

The act extends the power, originally created in the Illegal Migration Act 2023, for a minister to disregard an interim measure of the ECtHR where this concerns the removal of an individual from the UK.

It also prevents our domestic courts from considering interim measures issued by the ECtHR when deciding cases domestically.

Interim measures are injunctions which are only used in urgent cases where there is a real risk of irreparable harm and whilst awaiting a fully judgment being handed down by the courts.

Refusing to comply with an interim measure would be a clear and serious breach of international law.

5. The act limits interim remedies

The act further restricts when a domestic court or tribunal can grant an interim remedy. Interim remedies will only be granted when the court is satisfied that the person would ‘face a real, imminent and foreseeable risk of serious and irreversible harm’.

However, this limited safeguard does not apply to those facing removal to Rwanda under the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

6. The act weakens the rights of the most vulnerable.

The act allows for even the most vulnerable to be removed to Rwanda, including children and victims of trafficking and modern slavery.

7. The act is ultimately unworkable

Rwanda has not explicitly agreed to accept the number of asylum seekers in the UK who have had or will have their claims declared inadmissible.

While the government claim that the scheme is ‘uncapped’, previous estimations for how many individuals Rwanda has capacity for have been very small.

There will therefore be thousands of individuals who, barred from being granted asylum in the UK, and unable to be removed, will remain in a permanent limbo in the UK.

We continue to monitor the effects of both the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024.

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