legal challenge to the government’s controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has failed after High Court judges concluded the policy is lawful.
A bitter battle over the flights to the East African nation has been waged since then-Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the policy in April, when she declared it as a measure to deter migrant boats from crossing the Channel.
Campaigners, charities, and asylum seekers who travelled by boat from France launched challenges to the policy, arguing it amounted to a breach of human rights and questioning the legality of the government process in signing the deal.
In a boost for ministers, particularly current Home Secretary Suella Braverman who has championed the policy, Lord Justice Lewis and Mr Justice Swift said the policy as a whole is lawful.
But they said the cases of the individual asylum seekers who mounted challenges had not been properly considered by the Home Office before being earmarked for a flight to Rwanda, and must be looked at again.
“We have concluded that it is lawful for the government to make arrangements for relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda and for their asylum claims to be determined in Rwanda rather than the UK”, said Lord Justice Lewis, in a summary of the rulings.
“On the evidence before the court, the government has made arrangements with the government of Rwanda which are intended to ensure that the asylum claims of people relocated to Rwanda are properly determined.”
But he added that the Home Secretary must “consider properly” every individual case of an asylum seeker being sent to Rwanda in the future.
“The Home Secretary has not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants whose cases we are considering”, said the judge, ordering the Home Office to look again.
The first deportation flight – due to take off on June 14 – was grounded amid a series of challenges against individual removals and the policy as a whole.
It is expected Monday’s ruling will be challenged in the Court of Appeal, with a Supreme Court battle also possible, blocking flights until next year at the earliest.
At a five-day hearing of the case in September, lawyers for several asylum seekers, along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, argued that the plans are unlawful.
Raza Husain QC, representing a collection of asylum seekers in the case, told judges Rwanda cracks down on political opponents and he argued the country has a sub-standard immigration system that the UK should not rely on.
“We make no bones about our submission that Rwanda is, in substance, a one-party authoritarian state with extreme levels of surveillance which does not tolerate political opposition”, he said.
He said the country’s government “tolerates political oppression” in a “regime” which “repeatedly imprisons, tortures, and murders those it considers to be opponents”.
Mr Husain argued police violence is used to crack down on freedom of speech, with outspoken critics being subjected to “oppression”. UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – intervened in the case, telling the court that Rwanda “lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system”, and that the policy would lead to a serious risk of breaches of the Refugee Convention.
In its defence, the Home Office said the Rwandan authorities have given “detailed assurances” over the processing of asylum claims and the ongoing treatment of individuals.
These include assurances that people deported to Rwanda will be provided with “adequate accommodation”, food, free medical assistance, education, language and professional development training and “integration programmes”, judges were told.
The Home Secretary has provided a minimum of three years’ funding for each “relocated individual”, and five years’ support for anyone granted refugee status if they stay in Rwanda, lawyers also said.
More than forty barristers lined up for the High Court battle, as evidence was put forward that the Foreign Office and the Home Office had both been warned about striking a deal with Rwanda.
Announcing the policy Ms Patel called it a “world-first agreement” with Rwanda and said it was aimed at deterring migrants from crossing the Channel.
The first flight was grounded after a series of legal challenges and the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights, in a block that is expected to remain during subsequent challenges in the Court of Appeal in London.
A further hearing is scheduled in the High Court for January 16.
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