Europe (Parliament Politics Maganize) – The UK Supreme Court has invalidated the government’s contentious agreement with Rwanda, known as the ‘cash for asylum seekers’ deal, in a significant decision that may influence the approach of EU nations and the European Commission in negotiating similar migration agreements with third countries. This ruling represents a significant setback for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as stringent migration control has been a key focus of his administration.
Presenting the court’s verdict on Wednesday, November 15, Lord Reed, the president of the Supreme Court, declared that the judges were in unanimous agreement with the Court of Appeal’s decision. The court concurred that there existed a genuine threat of incorrectly assessing claims in Rwanda, leading to the potential wrongful repatriation of asylum seekers to their countries of origin.
Evidence from The United Nations Refugee Agency
He referenced evidence from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, which underscored the shortcomings of a comparable deportation arrangement between Israel and Rwanda.
In 2022, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson reached a £140 million agreement with Paul Kagame’s government, outlining that asylum seekers would be transported to Rwanda for the assessment of their asylum claims. However, despite a series of legal challenges, no deportations have transpired.
The inaugural planned Rwanda deportation flight encountered a last-minute obstruction a year ago when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued an injunction, halting any deportations until the completion of legal proceedings in Britain.
In an evaluation of the legislation formalizing the program, the UK’s Court of Appeal, in June, determined that shortcomings in Rwanda’s asylum system created significant reasons to believe that individuals sent there could face repatriation to their home nations, where they might encounter “persecution or other inhumane treatment.”
This decision by the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier ruling by the High Court, which had designated Rwanda as a safe third country—a classification now reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.
Sunak Expressed Disappointment with The Outcome
Sunak expressed disappointment with the outcome, stating, “This was not the outcome we wanted, but we have spent the last few months planning for all eventualities, and we remain completely committed to stopping the boats.” He emphasized, “Crucially, the Supreme Court – like the Court of Appeal and the High Court before it – has confirmed that the principle of sending illegal migrants to a safe third country for processing is lawful.”
Following this court decision, there is likely to be increased pressure on Sunak from his Conservative party MPs to consider withdrawing the UK from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a Strasbourg-based court associated with the Council of Europe, an international rights watchdog.
This development could potentially impact the European Union as well. Recently, interior ministers from the UK and Austria signed a collaborative agreement to cooperate on ‘third country’ asylum schemes. Simultaneously, the German government is considering a review of outsourcing asylum application processing to third countries, and Italy has disclosed its agreement with Albania to host irregular migrants. However, the European Union’s executive has explicitly stated that the offshoring of asylum processes to a third country, whether by Austria or any other EU member, is not permissible under EU law.
EU Asylum Law
As of now, EU asylum law exclusively pertains to applications submitted within the territory of a member state and does not extend to applications made outside that jurisdiction, clarified a spokesperson for the Commission on November 7th.
Despite this limitation, the Commission has actively pursued agreements with Tunisia and Egypt in recent months. These agreements would involve investments and EU assistance in border control, with the expectation that these North African states would, in turn, take measures to reduce migrant crossings over the Mediterranean Sea.
Katy Chakrabortty, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam GB, expressed relief at the Supreme Court’s decision, stating, “It will be a great relief for many that the Supreme Court has ruled against this inhumane scheme, which sought to punish rather than protect those fleeing conflict and persecution.”
The government must reevaluate its asylum policies. The only effective solution to deter individuals from risking their lives on perilous small-boat crossings is for the government to create more safe and legal pathways for those seeking asylum,” she emphasized.