On Wednesday, the UK Supreme Court declared unlawful a contentious British government scheme aiming to deport asylum-seekers arriving in the country as stowaways or via boats to Rwanda.
Five justices on the country’s top court said asylum-seekers would be “at real risk of ill-treatment” because they could be sent back to their home countries once they were in Rwanda.
The government appealed to the Supreme Court after a lower court had already ruled that the removal policy to the East African country was unlawful because Rwanda could not be considered a safe third country.
“Having been taken through the evidence we agree with their conclusion,” a five-judge panel said of the Court of Appeal’s earlier decision, arguing there was a “real risk” to asylum seekers’ rights under international law.
What have the UK and Rwanda said?
Responding to the decision, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement: “We have seen today’s judgment and will now consider next steps.”
He added: “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.”
Sunak will hold a press conference on the court ruling later on Wednesday.
A Rwandan government spokesperson said: “We do take issue with the ruling that Rwanda is not a safe third country for asylum seekers and refugees.
“We have been recognised by the UNHCR and other international institutions for our exemplary treatment of refugees. This is ultimately a decision for the UK’s judicial system.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the scheme is needed to reduce “illegal” immigration across the Channel on small boats, likely to be a key battleground issue at the UK’s next general election expected in 2024.
Britain and Rwanda signed a deal in April 2022 to send some migrants who arrive in the UK across the English Channel to the East African country, where their asylum claims would be processed and, if successful, they would stay in Rwanda.
Opposition politicians, refugee groups and human rights organizations say the plan is unethical and unworkable.
No one has yet been sent to Rwanda as the plan was challenged in the courts.
The first deportation flight was stopped at the last minute in June 2022 when the European Court of Human Rights intervened.
How many migrants want to travel to the UK?
The UK receives fewer asylum-seekers than many European nations, including Germany, France and Italy.
Nevertheless, thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hope of crossing the Channel. Sunak and his ministers have consistently pledged to “stop the boats,” making the phrase a key part of their communications.
The Rwanda policy was championed by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was fired by Sunak on Monday over a series of intemperate statements that deviated from the government line.
In the weeks before her sacking, Braverman, who represented the populist right wing of the Conservative Party, had described migrants as a “hurricane” headed for Britain.