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Court okays plans by UK govt to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda

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Government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are lawful, the High Court ruled on Monday – paving the way for ministers to prepare a new deportation flight.

Priti Patel announced the policy in April as part of a ‘world-first agreement’ to stop migrants from crossing the Channel, but the first flight – due to take off on June 14 – was grounded after legal challenges to individual removals and the policy as a whole.

On Monday, two senior judges rejected arguments that the proposal to provide one-way tickets to the east African nation were unlawful, but ruled in favour of eight asylum seekers whose cases were ‘not properly considered.’

Following the decision, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was ‘committed’ to the policy and ‘stood ready’ for any further legal challenges.

Downing Street said it wanted the plan to be implemented as soon as possible but said it was impossible to put a timetable on that while the possibility of further legal action remained.

In a summary of the ruling read out in court, Lord Justice Lewis said: “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.”

He added: “The relocation of asylum seekers to Rwanda is consistent with the Refugee Convention and with the statutory and other legal obligations on the Government, including the obligations imposed by the Human Rights Act 1998.”

In their 139-page judgment, Lord Justice Lewis and Mr Justice Swift said: “It is a fair point that, to date, the number of claims handled by the Rwandan asylum system has been small…it will take time and resources to develop the capacity of the Rwandan asylum system.

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“However, significant resources are to be provided…the number of persons that will be transferred will depend on the consent of the Rwandan government, taking account of its capacity to deal with persons in the way required.”

The judges continued: “The Memoranda of Understanding makes provision for significant financial assistance to Rwanda. That is a clear and significant incentive towards compliance with the terms of the arrangement.”

However, the judges said that the Home Secretary “has not properly considered” the eight individuals’ cases, which meant the decisions to send them to Rwanda would be quashed and sent back to be reconsidered.

Lord Justice Lewis said a further hearing would take place in mid-January to handle the consequences of the judgment, including costs and applications to go to the Court of Appeal.

At a five-day hearing in September, lawyers for several asylum seekers – along with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and charities Care4Calais and Detention Action – argued the plans are unlawful and that Rwanda ‘tortures and murders those it considers to be its opponents.”

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.

At a further hearing in October, lawyers for the charity Asylum Aid also challenged the policy, arguing that the procedure is ‘seriously unfair’ and also unlawful, with asylum seekers put at risk of being removed without access to legal advice.

The Home Office defended the claims, with lawyers arguing the memorandum of understanding agreed between the UK and Rwanda provides assurances that ensure everyone sent there will have a ‘safe and effective’ refugee status determination procedure.

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, as part of plans that have cost at least £120 million.

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