Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 626, 25 April 2024

The UK: Parliament approves the Bill to deport migrants to Rwanda
Padmashree Anandhan

In the news
On 22 April, the UK Parliament approved the Bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after a continued debate between the upper and lower houses. The Bill skipped its first hurdle with no interventions from the House of Lords, which earlier mandated modifications. In the last round of negotiations, the Bill's name was changed to the "Safety of Rwanda Bill." The government assured that it had already addressed the Supreme Court's concerns by signing a treaty with the Rwandans in December 2023.
 
Ahead of the vote, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak assured that the deportation flights would begin in the coming months. He added, "We are ready, plans are in place, and these flights will go, come what may." The vote was held as a response by the UK government to the Supreme Court's ruling that the deportation to Rwanda violated international law. 
 
The Bill would request the court to reconsider Rwanda as a safe country and allow the UK the power to ignore international and human rights law. David Anderson, a barrister and member of the House of Lords, said: "You can't make a country safe just by saying it's safe." 
 
On 23 April, in reaction to the policy, the UNHCR commissioner Filippo Grandi said: "…shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent." The Council of Europe's commissioner for Human Rights, Michael O'Flaherty, said: "…raises major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law more generally." He urged the UK government to "…refrain from removing people under the policy and reverse the bill's "effective infringement of judicial independence."

Issues at large
First, a brief on illegal immigration. According to a UK government report, as of 2023, the total number of irregular migrants entering was 52,530; 85 per cent had arrived only through small boats. Since 2020, migrants have been arriving at a higher rate due to the ease of COVID-19 restrictions. The number of illegally arriving people using small boats has only been increasing. 

Second, the UK's Rwanda plan. In 2021, the government introduced a plan to restrict the entry of illegal migrants. Later, the Nationality and Borders Bill was adopted in 2021, declaring irregular entry of migrants into the UK as a criminal offence. During 2022-23, the move faced legal drawbacks when the deportation to Rwanda was opposed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and blocked by the UK Supreme Court. In 2024, the House of Lords negotiated with the UK government to form an independent monitoring group to examine if Rwanda was safe. The government's pursuit overrode this to have made the required modifications with a key aim to legalize the deportation plan.

Third, Tory's ceaseless efforts. Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed the initial plan to prevent illegal migration. Introduced as a Nationality and Borders Bill in 2022, it was modified as an Illegal Migration Bill in 2023 when the first deportation was suspended by the European Court of Human Rights interim decision. This was possible when former home secretary Suella Braverman revived the Bill by allowing the removal of illegal asylum seekers to a "safe third country" without an option of re-entry into the UK. Following the UK Supreme Court decision block, the conservative party continues to push against the declaration of Rwanda as a safe country amid the legal challenges. The government's latest law attempts to legislate away from the stated facts and declare Rwanda safe to send asylum seekers despite the 2023 ruling. The law obliges the UK courts and civil servants to "conclusively" treat Rwanda as safe. It directs the judges and immigration officials to consider the same while severely limiting access to appeals and remedies. 
 
Fourth, national and international responses. At the international level, the government's move on the Rwanda plan is considered a "blatant disregard" of international laws and human rights, triggering international condemnation. Human rights activists have called the bill "inhuman" and impracticable. In the case of the legal critics, they have observed it as a corrosion of the UK's reputation for the rule of law. Within the UK and the Tories, a clear division has been visible between the left and right inside Tory, where the right group has strongly greenlighted for deportation. A moderate group within the party called the bill "went too far." Meanwhile, the Labour Party vowed to remove the law if it were adopted.

In perspective
First, Safety of Rwanda Bill a lone boat at sea. There are three real-time barriers to the continuity of the Bill. Although the UK government has overridden the Bill through the House of Lords to insist on reconsidering Rwanda as a safe place for reputation, the UK Supreme Court and the ECHR can pose legal barriers deterring from executing the plan. Legal challenges aside, the UK government's push is politically strong, while the financial cost budget of giving GBP 370 million over five years to Rwanda to prove it as a safe place remains in a grey zone. Lastly, migration has become a long-term component in winning votes for the Tories against the Labour Party in the upcoming elections. Labour Party's stance on scrapping the law, even if passed, places the existence of the long-battled Bill into an uncertain zone.
 
Second, the UK's undermining of human rights. The conservative party's relentless effort to reduce migrant entries and override the UK's Supreme Court rule will face legal challenges. Any deportation attempts are likely to trigger further legal challenges, making it dubious for deporting large numbers of asylum seekers to Rwanda. Legal challenges are expected, especially in removing the individual removals. The rigor to legalize the plan indicates a desperate and divided Tory's trying hard to close the polling gap against the Labour Party.

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