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Refugees, Rwanda, and the Rule of Law

The UK Supreme Court has just ruled, unanimously, that because Rwanda is not a safe third country, the UK government may not proceed with relocating asylum seekers there. Pervading the judgment is a sense of disbelief and outright contempt for recently ousted Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s flagship policy.

LONDON – Every Afghan and Syrian refugee who has sought asylum before a Rwandan court in recent years has been turned away. Many others have not even lodged their claims because the Rwandan government has “clandestinely” relocated them to neighboring countries. This places these refugees at risk of refoulement: return to the country they had fled for fear of persecution, torture, or death.

These were two of the key observations made by UK Supreme Court President Robert Reed as he delivered the judgment striking down the government’s policy of removing asylum seekers from the United Kingdom and sending them to Rwanda. The Supreme Court justices unanimously found – on the “basis of the evidence and established legal principles,” that Rwanda was not a safe third country.

The question of Rwanda’s safety for asylum seekers was the core issue before the justices. Under international and UK law, a government may relocate asylum seekers – forcibly or otherwise – to another country, but only if that country is both willing to receive them and safe. Given the financial inducements offered to Rwanda’s authoritarian regime by the UK Home Office, Rwandan President Paul Kagame was willing. The UK paid Rwanda £140 million ($174 million) before a single refugee was relocated there, while the government promised to pay Rwanda more than £100,000 for each asylum seeker it took.