LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain’s chief Catholic refugee agency says the UK’s continued plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is “profoundly troubling.”
The UK signed a deportation deal with the African country in 2022, but the UK Supreme Court said the plan was unlawful asylum seekers faced the risk of deportation to their home countries by the Rwandan government.
This week, the British parliament is debating a Bill declaring that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers.
This would reverse the November 2023 ruling by the UK Supreme Court, which said genuine refugees sent to Rwanda would be at risk of being returned to their home countries, where they could face harm.
“This Bill – the ‘Safety of Rwanda (asylum and immigration) Bill’ is an attempt to ram through the cruel and unworkable plan to forcibly transfer people seeking sanctuary here to Rwanda, in the face of the Supreme Court’s Judgement that that there is too great a risk that asylum claims would not be fairly considered in Rwanda,” the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) said in a statement.
“This is a profoundly troubling moment for British politics. In the Rwanda plan, the government conceived of a horrifying and inhuman scheme, the piece de resistance in a matrix of highly impractical policies the core purpose of which is performative cruelty towards people who have lost everything and seek only to rebuild their lives in safety,” the statement said.
The new Bill passed its first vote in Parliament in December 2023, but its fate is still not certain. Some Conservative politicians think the bill should go further, while others are concerned that it breaks international law.
The JRS UK said the government, confronted with the court’s finding – “based on detailed consideration of evidence, that Rwanda is not safe for refugees” – is trying to craft a legal fiction.
“The disregard for evidence – indeed, for sheer reality – in the making of policy could hardly be starker. This Bill plays fast and loose with both domestic and international law. All of this is awful,” the Catholic group said.
“What remains most horrifying is that our political culture has reached a point where the forced transfer of people seeking sanctuary here is being considered at all, let alone pursued so theatrically at so high a cost to our democratic institutions,” it continued.
The UK government signed a new migration treaty with Rwanda after the Supreme Court ruling, which Home Secretary James Cleverley said guarantees that any people sent to Rwanda to claim asylum would not be at risk of being returned to their home countries.
However, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is still questioning the UK-Rwanda agreement.
It says it runs counter to the fundamental principles of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing that underpin the international refugee protection system by shifting responsibility for identifying and meeting international protection needs from the UK to Rwanda, “and is an example of ‘externalization’ of international protection.”
“By entrenching responsibility-shifting, the treaty remains at variance with the spirit and letter of the Refugee Convention. UNHCR notes that past externalization attempts and arrangements have not represented sustainable, effective responses to refugee movements,” the UN agency says.
“Refugees are already disproportionately hosted in the developing world, in countries that continue to welcome and protect refugees despite very pressing challenges. Low and middle-income countries, including in Africa, host 75 percent of the world’s refugees. The definitive transfer of asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda will increase, rather than address, this imbalance,” it continues, adding the deal also undermines the wider global protection regime, “sending a damaging signal to large refugee hosting countries that the solidarity of international partners can no longer be relied on.”
The JRS UK says the British government plan “utterly disregards” the value of human dignity and human life and will forcibly transfer women, men, children seeking safety in the UK to Rwanda.
“It denies the common ties that bind human beings and give us a duty of care towards each other. It abrogates any sense that our society has a duty to take a share in the global responsibility of providing sanctuary to refugees. And, concretely, were it ever enacted, it would destroy lives and plunge refugees into fresh danger. It should be unthinkable,” the Catholic agency says.
“Yet there is a risk that ideas like this become normalized, as the opposition begins to talk about outsourcing asylum processing as an ‘alternative’ to the Rwanda plan. If we let it, this could become the mainstream of our political discourse. We must not let this happen. This cannot be the new normal. This is not the society we want to be,” the JRS UK says.