The UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda is legal, two High Court judges have ruled in a victory for backers of the controversial policy.
But the judges also said on Monday that the government failed to consider the individual circumstances of the people it tried to deport, signalling further legal battles ahead.
A court hearing in the case is set for next month, and appeals are likely.
Several asylum seekers, aid groups and a border officials’ union filed lawsuits to stop the Conservative government from acting on a deportation agreement with Rwanda that would see refugees who arrive in the UK by boat sent to the East African country.
The asylum seekers would then have to present their asylum claims in Rwanda. Those not granted asylum in Rwanda would, under the plan, be able to apply to stay on other grounds or to try to get resettled in a third country.
“The court has 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 in the United Kingdom,” Judge Clive Lewis said.
But he added that the government “must decide if there is anything about each person’s particular circumstances which means that his asylum claim should be determined in the United Kingdom or whether there are other reasons why he should not be relocated to Rwanda”.
“The Home Secretary has not properly considered the circumstances of the eight individual claimants whose cases we have considered,” the judge said.
Ever Solomon, head of the charity Refugee Council, said the group was “very disappointed” by the ruling.
“Treating people who are in search of safety like human cargo and shipping them off to another country is a cruel policy that will cause great human suffering,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the Royal Courts of Justice in London, said the verdict, “a major decision made by the court in favour of the government”, could be appealed.
“If the road runs out in the UK, there is also the possibility that it could go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg as well,” he said.
“And that’s where this potentially becomes even more controversial as the European Court of Human Rights has the power to rule government policy unlawful.”
More than 44,000 people who crossed the Channel in small boats have arrived in Britain this year, and several have died in the attempt, including four last week when a boat capsized in freezing weather.
Human rights groups say the government’s deal with Rwanda is illegal and unworkable, and that it is inhumane to send people thousands of miles to a country they don’t want to live in.
They also cite Rwanda’s poor human rights record, including allegations of torture and killings of government opponents.
Britain has paid Rwanda 120 million pounds ($146m) under the deal struck in April, but no one has yet been sent to the country.
The UK was forced to cancel the first deportation flight at the last minute in June after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the plan carried “a real risk of irreversible harm”.
The British government is determined to press on with the policy, arguing that it will deter people-trafficking gangs who ferry migrants on hazardous journeys across the Channel’s busy shipping lanes.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has called the Channel crossings an “invasion of our southern coast”, told the Times of London it would be “unforgivable” if the government did not stop the journeys.
Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo welcomed the British court’s decision.
“This is a positive step in our quest to contribute innovative, long-term solutions to the global migration crisis,” she said.
The UK government has argued that while Rwanda was the site of a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in 1994, the country has since built a reputation for stability and economic progress. Critics say that stability comes at the cost of political repression.
The UK receives fewer asylum seekers than many European nations, including France, Germany and Italy, but thousands of refugees from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of crossing the Channel.
Some want to reach the UK because they have friends or family there, others because they speak English or because it’s perceived to be easy to find work.
The government wants to deport all people who arrive by irregular routes and aims to strike Rwanda-style deals with other countries.
Critics point out there are few authorised routes for seeking asylum in the UK, other than those set up for people from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.
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